Venezuela’s Rebel Chief Prosecutor ‘Does Not Recognize’ Her Ouster

Venezuelan General Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz, third left, is surrounded by loyal employees of the General Prosecutor's office, as she was barred from entering her office by security forces, outside of the General Prosecutor headquarters in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017. Security forces surrounded the entrance ahead of a …
AP Photo/Wil Riera

Dictator Nicolás Maduro’s socialist legislature used its first session to remove Luisa Ortega Díaz, the nation’s chief prosecutor, from her office this weekend, a move Ortega said she did not recognize and will not abide by.

The “National Constituents Assembly” is a fabricated parallel lawmaking body made up entirely of socialists, which Maduro has imposed on the nation, usurping the power of the democratically elected and opposition-led National Assembly.

The constituents’ first order of business this weekend was to remove Ortega, a former chavista who has become a vocal opponent of the socialist regime, from her position. The fraudulent lawmaking body removed Ortega from the position, banned her from public office for the rest of her life, banned her from leaving Venezuela, and froze her assets. The constituents also created a bureaucratic entity called the Commission for Truth, Justice, and Reparations that President Delcy Rodríguez said would punish “hate crimes” and “fascism.”

Following the announcement, Ortega stated that she was still the nation’s chief prosecutor. “I do not recognize this demotion, I am still the nation’s prosecutor,” she told students at a forum hosted by André Bello Catholic University. Ortega noted that the constituents’ assembly itself “was convoked illegitimately, the process that led to its election was perverted, totally unconstitutional, and illegal.”

Ortega had called for a special investigation into the July 30 election to create the constituent assembly before being deposed. Shortly before her order, Smartmatic, the corporation that sells its electoral technology to Venezuela, issued a statement announcing it had found evidence of vote manipulation and fraud in that election – not to rig the votes for any one candidate, since all the candidates on the ballots were socialists, but to make the vote registration totals appear significantly inflated.

“Participation was very low and the few people who went to vote did so under duress. The Public Ministry has copies of proof of this,” she added.

She went on to condemn the Maduro regime for intimidating and, in some cases, physically assaulting, the opposition. “Exercising political rights here has become a crime. All the democratic, electoral paths have been closed, the paths to dialogue. They use dialogue to mock the mediators, you can’t have dialogue that way and resolve the great problems this nation has.”

“The entire country is in ruins,” she lamented.

Ortega attempted to enter her office again before the official vote to remove her, but Maduro had deployed troops to prevent her entry.

Prior to her removal – and in addition to her call to investigate the July 30 election, Ortega had announced that she had found evidence of extreme police and military brutality against unarmed civilians, as well as evidence that the military had arrested and was prosecuting civilian protesters through the military justice system on charges such as “treason” and “insubordination,” which cannot legally be levied against civilians.

Such actions were described as “severe misconduct” upon her removal from office.

The international community has reacted to her removal with outrage. “The removal of Venezuela’s chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega … is a clear threat to the autonomy and independence of the Venezuelan Public Ministry,” a statement from the foreign ministers of the Mercosur trade block published this weekend read. Among the signatories are the foreign ministers of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Perú, and Uruguay. Mercosur recently suspended Venezuela’s membership on grounds that it was no longer a democratic government.

In her stead, the government has appointed Tarek William Saab, a longtime chavista loyalist recently sanctioned by the Trump administration. Saab had previously served as the public ombudsman, a job in which he should have been calling for investigations into the deaths of more than one hundred civilians killed during peaceful protests in exchanges with the Venezuelan military since March.

The Argentine website Infobae describes Saab as a “poet, ‘human rights activist,’ gym rat and lover of tattoos.” In late July, Maduro presented Saab with a replica of a sword owned by founding father Simón Bolívar in recognition of the U.S. sanctions against him, praising his “Arab warrior blood.”

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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