Venezuela’s Supreme Court has declared the National Assembly, the national legislative body, “void” following the swearing-in of a majority opposition legislature for the first time in 17 years.
The court has ruled that three newly elected legislators are not allowed to act in their capacity as representatives, and the entire legislature is unable to draft bills or pass laws until the three have been removed. All three representatives – Nirma Guarulla, Julio Haron Ygarza, and Romel Guzamana – are members of the opposition party, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD). Venezuela’s Socialist Party (PSUV) claims all three were elected through fraudulent means.
The court “orders the National Assembly to render ineffectual the swearing in and disincorporate the citizens from the Assembly. … All National Assembly acts dictated or that will be dictated while these citizens are in the Assembly are absolutely void.”
MUD representatives assumed their positions last week in a swearing-in ceremony punctuated by PSUV representatives hurling insults at the opposition as they took their oaths. At least two journalists attempting to cover the event were beaten and taken to the hospital after their encounter with Chavista gangs outside of the National Assembly building.
New National Assembly President Henry Ramos Allup’s first act as head of the legislative body was to remove oversized icons of Hugo Chávez that Diosdado Cabello, his predecessor, had placed in the legislative chamber. U.S. officials are currently investigativing significant evidence indicating that Cabello, in addition to his high rank within the Venezuelan Socialist Party, is the head of the Cartel de los Soles, one of Latin America’s most lucrative cocaine trafficking organizations.
MUD members have declared that they will disregard the court’s ruling. “We will not cede one iota of the power that the people of Venezuela gave us,” Freddy Guevara, a newly minted MUD legislator, said following the announcement. Deputy President of the Assembly Simón Calzadilla echoed this sentiment: “All 112 (opposition) lawmakers are going to continue legislating. This sentence from the Supreme Court of Justice is impossible to respect. We lawmakers are protected by the constitution.”
Opposition lawmakers are working on drafting a bill granting amnesty to the nation’s prisoners of conscience, including former Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma and Popular Will Party leader Leopoldo López.
López is perhaps the most prominent victim of Venezuela’s fraudulent court system, having been sentenced to 14 years in prison for organizing a peaceful protest against socialist President Nicolás Maduro, and is now widely known to have been sentenced using false evidence. The prosecutor in charge of the investigation against him, Franklin Nieves, has defected to the United States and alleged that the evidence he used against López was “100 percent false.”
“Prosecutors and judges fear that if anyone dissents from carrying out an order, he will be detained, or a criminal case will be invented against him and he will be jailed,” he said.
In addition to the many questions surrounding how Venezuela’s Supreme Court functions, many doubt the government’s allegations of fraud against the three legislators in question. Most of the evidence of fraud during the December 6 elections suggested it was the socialist government, not the opposition, that had attempted to sway the election. The nation’s election commission illegally extended voting times in districts, hoping to attract more voters. Multiple voters alleged that their machines appeared to “eat” ballots without counting them; those witnessing this were largely opposition supporters. Both journalists and international observers were expelled from major voting centers.
Maduro blamed his loss in the December 6 election on the United States. “Where there is a conspiracy, there is a gringo,” he told viewers on his weekly television program.
On Tuesday, Socialist Party supporters once again gathered in front of the National Assembly building, and local publications are reporting incidents of violence in the area. Several reports have appeared on social media claiming “explosions” occurring outside of the building.