A ruling this week by Venezuela’s Supreme Court stripping the nation’s legislative branch of all authority — and vesting that power in the court itself — moves a country already beset by violence and economic scarcity one step closer to outright dictatorship.
The decision means essentially that every arm of Venezuela’s government is now under the thumb of President Nicolás Maduro, whose supporters have gone to great lengths to wrest authority from the National Assembly, which has been dominated by a slate of opposition parties since early 2016. The country’s top court, which is packed with Maduro loyalists, had already invalidated every major law passed by Congress. On Wednesday, as part of a decision involving the executive branch’s authority over oil ventures, the court declared that henceforth the judicial branch would execute all powers normally reserved for the legislature.
The ruling provoked international condemnation and sent shock waves across the region. It also prompted a strikingly public rebuke from Luisa Ortega, a Maduro loyalist who serves as the nation’s chief prosecutor. She denounced the decision in a televised address during which she brandished a copy of Venezuela’s Constitution.
The court’s ruling represents a “rupture in the constitutional order,” Ms. Ortega said, speaking at the Public Ministry, which she leads. “We call for reflection so that democratic norms are followed,” she added, eliciting hearty applause from colleagues who appeared stunned by the gravity of the moment.
Other voices like hers should be heard, and soon. Venezuelan officials who have enabled Mr. Maduro’s authoritarian rule need to stand up for democratic principles, including the separation of powers and respect for the will of the electorate.
It is necessary, too, for Venezuela’s neighbors to speak out more emphatically. Mr. Maduro finds himself increasingly isolated diplomatically as traditional regional allies have turned on him. A coalition of all the major powers in the hemisphere has begun exploring potential responses to Venezuela’s economic and political crisis. Those efforts must advance with a renewed sense of urgency.
Luis Almagro, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, characterized Wednesday’s court decision in a statement as a “self-inflicted coup d’état” against the “last branch of government to be legitimized by the will of the people of Venezuela.”
To signal his alarm, Mr. Almagro has called for an urgent meeting of O.A.S. members by invoking the Democratic Charter, a pact that members of the diplomatic organization signed in 2001 to pledge adherence to democratic principles and practices. It now seems plausible that the meeting could be the first step toward expelling Venezuela from the organization.
This prospect should be sufficient to alert Mr. Maduro and his acolytes in the judiciary to the foolishness of their autocratic behavior and persuade them to promptly restore the Assembly’s authority.
In addition, the government must establish a time frame in which to hold local elections that were supposed to be held last year and future ones that have not yet been scheduled. “The Venezuelan people want to resolve the political crisis by voting,” Henrique Capriles, a prominent opposition leader, told reporters in Washington on Friday after meeting with Mr. Almagro. “We want elections. We’ll never be able to talk about democracy if there is no vote.”
Failure to take meaningful action toward compromise will only deepen the misery of Venezuelans, fuel an even larger exodus of people leaving the country and raise the likelihood that what is now a senseless political dispute will end in violence.
Saturday, April 1, 2017
Venezuela's New Normal - Judicial and Executive Tyranny
from the NY Times