Venezuela

Venezuela top lawyer decries constitutional overhaul, distances herself from Maduro

In this May 24, 2017 file photo, Venezuela's Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz speaks to the press at her office in Caracas, Venezuela. Ortega Diaz said Thursday, June 8, that she has asked the country's supreme court to annul the government's effort to rewrite the constitution.
In this May 24, 2017 file photo, Venezuela's Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz speaks to the press at her office in Caracas, Venezuela. Ortega Diaz said Thursday, June 8, that she has asked the country's supreme court to annul the government's effort to rewrite the constitution. AP

Venezuela’s chief prosecutor continued bucking the socialist administration Thursday, petitioning the Supreme Court to reject the government’s plans to overhaul the constitution.

Speaking from the courthouse steps, Luisa Ortega said a plan to elect members of a constituent assembly in July is unconstitutional and the nation needs to reject the idea.

She said the petition she was filing was “to defend popular sovereignty, defend the constitution, defend participatory democracy...and defend Venezuelans.”

“The country is at stake,” she said.

Ortega, once a key loyalist in the socialist administration of President Nicolás Maduro, has become a high-profile critic of the government. When the Supreme Court effectively dissolved congress in March, Ortega took the courts to task.

On Thursday, Ortega said the National Electoral Council didn’t have the right to call for a constituent assembly because it requires a national referendum first. Maduro has said he will hold that referendum, but only after a new constitution has been forged.

Unused to such rebellion, administration officials have suggested that Ortega will be on her way out soon.

Dario Vivas, a vice president of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, on Thursday told state-run AVN news agency that Ortega was “on the side of conspiracy, terrorism and those who murder our countrymen.”

Ortega’s rebuke comes amid nationwide anti-government protests that began in April and have claimed almost 70 lives. Protesters are calling for general elections, the release of political prisoners and humanitarian aid.

While protesters have largely relied on nonviolence despite clashes with the government, a violent minority within the opposition has killed security forces and civilians. Maduro has seized on those instances to write off protesters as coup-plotting terrorists.

The current wave of protests is the biggest test that Maduro has faced since taking office in 2013 after the death of Hugo Chávez. The 1999 Constitution was one of Chávez’s flagship accomplishments, and Maduro’s plans to change it have opened him up to criticism within his own party.

Ortega has seized on that, saying the changes are “destroying the legacy of President Chávez.”

Follow Jim Wyss on Twitter @jimwyss

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