Venezuela’s chavista-friendly Supreme Court issued a ruling Wednesday declaring itself the legislative body of the federal government, annulling the opposition-ruled National Assembly for showing “contempt” towards the socialist government.
Latin American media have labeled the move an autogolpe (“self-coup”), recalling the dissolution of Congress by Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori in 1992. With the notable exception of Russia, the international community has demanded President Nicolás Maduro and the Supreme Court undo the unconstitutional power grab and return lawmaking authority to the popularly-elected legislature.
Late Wednesday night, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling stating that the National Assembly was in “contempt” of the socialist government. “While the contempt scenario persists and the National Assembly remains invalid, this institution will guarantee that the parliamentary duties be executed directly by this institution or whatever institution it wishes,” the statement read.
The Supreme Court had previously ruled that the National Assembly did not have lawmaking powers, claiming that three anti-socialist legislators elected in December 2015 – the election that turned the Venezuelan Socialist Party (PSUV) into the minority in the legislature for the first time in the Chávez era – had committed fraud. “Legally, the National Assembly does not exist,” then-vice-president Aristobulo Isturiz said last year. The Assembly persisted, however, continued to be internationally recognized as the lawmaking body of Venezuela.
Maduro himself had also tried to usurp the Assembly’s power by creating a “Communal Parliament,” but this move was rapidly dismissed as unconstitutional and, by the lawmakers it attempted to silence, as “nonsense.”
Previous attempts to silence the legislature did not account for the power vacuum that dissolving the lawmaking body would leave. Now, however, the Supreme Court has granted itself all legislative powers, solving that issue for Maduro.
While consistently dismissing the legislature as invalid, Maduro himself has disregarded his own unconstitutional presence in the presidential palace. The legislature organized a recall vote against Maduro, as permitted by the Venezuelan constitution, and submitted a legal recall petition to the government in late 2016. Maduro’s electoral commission rejected the recall bid unconstitutionally, eliminating Maduro’s authority as president.
On Thursday, the leadership of the anti-Maduro opposition in the Assembly responded to the decree. National Assembly President Julio Borges tore the Supreme Court ruling up and tossed it on the floor of the steps of the assembly.
“This ruling is garbage,” he told reporters. “We do not recognize it. It is a coup d’etat.”
“This ruling gives Maduro all the power to make whatever laws he wants, sign whatever contracts he wants, indebt the country however he wants, and persecute Venezuelans however he wants. It is a coup d’etat in its pure form, it is a dctatorship and the world needs to help Venezuela in its decision to change this dictatorship with a vote,” Borges added.
Much of the world has responded. “The United States condemns the Venezuelan Supreme Court’s March 29 decision to usurp the power of the democratically elected National Assembly,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement Thursday. “We call for the government of Venezuela to permit the democratically-elected National Assembly to perform its constitutional functions, hold elections as soon as possible and to release all political prisoners.”
“The continued restrictions on freedom of movement, association, expression, and peaceful protest are not only profoundly concerning, but counterproductive in an extremely polarized country that suffers an economic and social crisis,” UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement. “I firmly encourage the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision.”
“Unfortunately, what we had warned has now come to pass,” Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General Luis Almagro said in response to the ruling. “The Secretary General of the OAS denounces the self-inflicted coup d’état perpetrated by the Venezuelan regime against the National Assembly, the last branch of government to be legitimized by the will of the people of Venezuela,” the organization said in a statement.
Even the Liberal Party government of Canada – run by a family friend of longtime Venezuelan allies, the Castro family – condemned the move. “Canada is deeply concerned by Venezuela Supreme Court’s decision to suspend legislative powers of democratically elected National Assembly,” the government said on Twitter.
With the exception of longtime Maduro allies – the propaganda outlet Telesur, the government of Cuba – only one major international player abstained from criticizing the Venezuelan Supreme Court: Russia.
“External forces should not add fuel to the fire to the conflict inside Venezuela,” the Russian government asserted in a statement Friday. “We are confident in the principle of non-interference in internal affairs.”