OAS chief denounces coup in Venezuela

Posted March 31, 2017

"Nicolas Maduro has carried out a "coup d'etat". this is a dictatorship", said National Assembly President Julio Borges, before tearing up a copy of the Supreme Court ruling at a news conference in the gardens of the legislature.

It said the decision to "usurp" the National Assembly's powers represented a "serious setback for democracy in Venezuela".

"As long as the National Assembly's contempt of court and invalidity persist, parliamentary powers shall be exercised directly by (the Supreme Court's) constitutional chamber or by the body it stipulates to safeguard the rule of law", the court said in its ruling.

On Tuesday, Michael Fitzpatrick, deputy assistant secretary for the U.S. State Department's Bureauof Western Hemisphere Affairs, at a special meeting of a council of the Organization of American States permanent council, referenced a decision the supreme court made to limit the immunity of National Assembly members.

Then late on Wednesday, it explicitly stated it was assuming Congress' role in a ruling authorising Maduro to create oil joint ventures without the previously mandated congressional approval.

That forced Maduro and his United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) to share power for the first time since its founder, Hugo Chavez, surged to power in 1999.

"To legally overtake the functions of a branch of government is a coup", said Latin America specialist Christopher Sabatini of Columbia University in NY.

The opposition attacked what it called a "fraudulent court" packed with Maduro loyalists bent on keeping him in power in the South American oil giant, where a three-year recession has caused food shortages, riots and an epidemic of violent crime.

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"This completely takes out the rug from under the people who argue that in Venezuela there is a balance of powers and that there are checks and balances", said Geoff Ramsey, a research associate at the Washington Office on Latin America.

Sabatini said the timing was no coincidence. "They're like, 'You know what?"

Leaders of the Democratic Unity opposition coalition renewed their demand for early presidential elections and accused Maduro of duplicating Peruvian leader Alberto Fujimori's notorious 1992 closure of Congress.

Borges warned that, with the ruling, Maduro seeks to avoid control by the Assembly over the oil businesses to "deliver them to his Russian friends, among others".

According to the court ruling, the actions of congressional lawmakers were in violation of constitutional order for failing to heed a prior ruling from the court.

A supporter of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro tries to take the camera of a photographer during clashes with opposition supporters outside the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) in Caracas, Venezuela, March 30, 2017.

Venezuela has the world's largest oil reserves, but the price collapse has laid bare its overwhelming dependence on its chief export.