Venezuela

Venezuelan lawmakers avoid military blockade to start recall of pro-government justices

Opposition lawmaker raise their hands to approve activation of the procedure to remove magistrates from the Supreme Court during a session at the National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, April 05, 2017. The government over the weekend backed away from the Supreme Court's ruling after strong international and domestic criticism.
Opposition lawmaker raise their hands to approve activation of the procedure to remove magistrates from the Supreme Court during a session at the National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, April 05, 2017. The government over the weekend backed away from the Supreme Court's ruling after strong international and domestic criticism. AP

Venezuela’s national legislature Wednesday began the process of removing pro-government justices on the constitutional branch of the Supreme Court, after opposition lawmakers gathered before dawn to avoid a National Guard blockade

The opposition majority in the National Assembly, some of whose deputies were injured Tuesday in attacks by government agents, also approved a declaration that Venezuela is suffering a coup d’etat and demanding the release of all political prisoners. It also urged the Venezuelan armed forces to listen to the people’s demands for democracy.

New Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke at Tuesday's White House press briefing, opening by talking about the Venezuelan vice president Tareck El Aissami and sanctions. He also answered questions about sanctions on Russia.

The armed forces must choose “if they want to be custodians of the constitution or just the bodyguards” of President Nicolás Maduro, said lawmaker Henry Ramos Allup, of the opposition Democratic Action party, during a speech in the National Assembly.

The assembly, controlled by the opposition majority, has accused the constitutional branch of the Supreme Court of carrying out Maduro’s plans over the past year to gradually seize more and more power.

“What you’re seeing here today is basically a group of Venezuelans who are resisting a coup d’etat,” said Assembly President Julio Borges.

Wednesday’s session began after the lawmakers arrived at dawn to avoid a military blockade designed to keep them away. National Guard units had kept the lawmakers from entering the National Assembly on Tuesday.

Opposition deputies want to remove several Supreme Court justices who were appointed by the government — allegedly illegally — after the Democratic Unity coalition won control of the legislature in 2015.

With the new justices leading the way, the Supreme Court began a gradual dismantling of the National Assembly’s powers.

Last week, the court issued a ruling in which it basically assumed all the functions of the National Assembly, sparking an international wave of condemnations. A new ruling over the weekend rescinded the earlier decision. But that does not correct all of the constitutional violations, Borges said Wednesday.

“The coup d’etat in Venezuela continues, getting worse and deeper every day,” he said.

Venezuela has been wracked by an economic crisis with soaring inflation and shortages of commercial goods. Most economists blame the woes on price controls, falling prices for oil exports, heavy government spending and production-crippling policie

Follow Antonio María Delgado on Twitter:@DelgadoAntonioM

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