The Supreme Court ruled in an unprecedented decision yesterday afternoon to strip away all of the National Assembly’s powers and grant them to itself, effectively killing the legislative branch in Venezuela and bringing a formal end to the democratic era in the country.
The ruling came via a decision on a case that was filed before the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ) on whether Maduro had the power to create a specific type of corporate entity. The TSJ ruled that Maduro did in fact have the power to do this, and also tucked the killing blow to the National Assembly near the end of the decision:
4.4. We point out that while the contempt and invalidity of the National Assembly continues, this Constitutional Chamber [the most powerful Chamber of the TSJ] guarantees that all parliamentary powers will be exercised by this Chamber or by any body that it determines, in order to ensure the rule of law.
The stunning decision comes just two days after the TSJ ruled that National Assembly deputies did not in fact have parliamentary immunity, fully exposing them to open political persecution.
In conjunction with one another, the decisions spell the definitive end of the National Assembly and the legislative branch in Venezuela, sinking the country deeper into the quagmire of dictatorship. Political power in Venezuela now rests atop two sites: Maduro’s office and the Supreme Court.
Borges Calls for “Street Action” in Face of “Coup d’Etat”
National Assembly president Julio Borges held a press conference today in which he called yesterday’s TSJ ruling “a coup d’etat in every sense of the term”, and called on all Venezuelans to join National Assembly deputies in “street action” against the Maduro regime.
While Borges refused to provide details on the opposition’s plans for street protests citing concerns that the regime would immediately begin the process of violent repression, he called on Venezuelans to take a stand against the regime:
We hope that the people will accompany us. We know that there is fear and repression, but the time has come to take as stand. Venezuela is hungry for food, justice and liberty.
This ruling gives Nicolas Maduro the power to do whatever he wants. This is a dictatorship.
On the current state of the Maduro regime, Borges said:
This government is so weak and fractured that the only option it has left is to violate the constitution. The Supreme Court magistrates will not get away without punishment. They’re committing crimes against humanity.
At the same time, Borges stressed that the solution to dictatorship in Venezuela could only come from general elections.
National Assembly deputies reacted in shock this morning to yesterday’s ruling.
Deputy Miguel Pizarro reacted through his Twitter account by saying:
The TSJ’s latest ruling continues to give superpowers to the government to the detriment of Venezuelans. The translation without euphemisms is simple: dictatorship.
Deputy Henry Ramos Allup told reporters early this morning that as far as he was aware, the opposition-control Assembly would continue to exercise its duties as outlined in the constitution, essentially ignoring yesterday’s ruling.
For Allup, the continuation of his duty as a democratically-elected legislator is an act of resistance against the Maduro regime. Allup explained:
The best thing that we can do as deputies is to continue to go to the Assembly to exercise our duties. We can’t retreat. Moreover, we will continue to assist all international organizations by denouncing these irregularities.
At the same time, Allup appears to have hope that an electoral process will rescue Venezuela from the Maduro regime:
This government will be in place until we have elections, first for governors and then for mayors. At some point the government and the National Electoral Council will run out of excuses to continue to delay electoral processes.
Guevara Calls for Open Revolt
Deputy Freddy Guevara took a less conciliatory tone. For Guevara, yesterday’s ruling is distinct from all previous TSJ rulings insofar as it spells the end of the National Assembly in a way that no other ruling has before. As a result, Guevara argued, the only appropriate response is open revolt.
This is not just another sentence. This sentence marks a point of no return for the dictatorship and demands that all of us – the people, civil society organizations, political parties and above all else deputies – begin a new process of mobilization and democratic resistance to face this attack and recover lost ground.
This is not a matter of annulling everything that the National Assembly does, but of usurping all of its powers, allowing [the TSJ] to approve new “law-sentences” that give the dictator more power to continue harming the people.
Guevara continued by invoking Article 333 and Article 350 of the constitution. Article 333 safeguards the constitution against any forcible removal of the constitutional order, while Article 350 grants the right to openly rebel against any regime that stands “contrary to the values, principles and democratic guarantees or undermines human rights”. Guevara said:
As a National Assembly deputy, elected by the people on a mandate to fight back against the hunger-inducing regime in power, and as the national coordinator of the Voluntad Popular party, and in adherence to our principles and values as a political organization, I call on everyone – beginning with us deputies, but making it clear that we will only achieve victory if we can count on the mobilization of all society – to take refuge in Articles 333 and 350 of the Constitution, which oblige us to defend [the constitution] and ignore any unconstitutional decision that violates the principles of that constitution, as are the decisions from the usurping Supreme Court.
He continued by explaining what it means it invoke Article 350 of the constitution:
[Article 350] gives us the ability to ignore any illegitimate and arbitrary regime or action, but this cannot be merely a declaration. In order to be effective, we have to articulate and organize ourselves, the opposition, the people, deputies and civil society groups, with the goal of safeguarding our constitution and make it impossible to execute and obey any unconstitutional decision from the TSJ right now through which the government’s actions, along with its judicial arm, violate the constitution in an unashamed way as well as the international treaties that oblige it to remain on the democratic path.
The text of Article 350 of the Constitution reads:
Article 350: The people of Venezuela, true to their republican tradition and their struggle for independence, peace and freedom, shall disown any regime, legislation or authority that violates democratic values, principles and guarantees or encroaches upon human rights.
Capriles Calls For OAS Action
Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles reacted to the news of the ruling by calling on the Organization of American States (OAS) to take immediate, concrete action on the Venezuelan crisis. Capriles said:
We need an emergency meeting of the permanent council of the OAS because a very serious decision has been taken in Venezuela in the last few hours.
Capriles argued that the OAS was the “closest organization” that could take action on Venezuela, given that it is “an organization that represents democratic governments”.
Capriles also issued a more general call to the international community to take a stand on yesterday’s decision, arguing that it could have repercussions in the rest of the region. He said:
Don’t look at this as a problem that only affects Venezuela. It’s something that concerns the whole continent. In the case of Colombia, we hope that you will be most receptive to this. If there is no action taken on this, the displacement of Venezuelan brothers will continue.
As to what the sentence means to him, Capriles said:
What more evidence does the international community need that there is a dictatorship in Venezuela?
OAS To Hold Emergency Meeting
OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro announced late this afternoon that the organization would hold an emergency meeting to discuss the developments in Venezuela of the last 24 hours.
Almagro made the announcement through a press release, part of which reads:
The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, denounces the auto-golpe [roughly, “coup d’etat”] perpetrated by the Venezuelan regime against the National Assembly, the last remaining branch of government that had legitimacy through vote.
“That of which we have warned has sadly taken place”, the Secretary General said.
The two decisions from the TSJ to strip diplomatic immunity from the National Assembly deputies and to take over the powers of the legislative branch in a completely unconstitutional manner are the last two blows with which the regime has undermined the constitutional order in the country and put an end to democracy.
The Secretary General of the OAS has said that it is urgent to hold a meeting of the permanent council within the framework of Article 20 of the [Inter-American] Democratic Charter, and stressed that we have arrived at this point despite the warnings given in the reports dated May 30 2016 and March 14 2017.
The OAS met on Tuesday of this week to discuss the Venezuelan crisis, but stopped short of reaching consensus on concrete action. Venezuela could be suspended from the OAS if the permanent council agrees that there has been a “break in the democratic order” of the country as per Article 21 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
Peru Withdraws Ambassador from Venezuela Over “Break” In Democratic Order
Peru became the first country in the region to react to the death of the National Assembly by recalling its ambassador from Caracas. The announcement came via a statement from the Peruvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, part of which reads:
In light of the severity of these events, the Government of Peru has decided to withdraw in definitive fashion its ambassador in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
The statement also called yesterday’s TSJ decision indicate of a “break in the constitutional and democratic order” of Venezuela, and that the country has reached out to member states of the Organization of American States (OAS) in order to discuss concrete measures on this event.
Brazil, Chile, US React
The governments of Brazil, Chile and the United States also reacted to yesterday’s ruling, with each expressing extreme concern over the end of democracy in Venezuela.
The Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued the following statement:
The Brazilian government condemns the ruling from the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ) of Venezuela for having stripped the National Assembly of its powers in a clear violation of constitutional order. It also received with concern information that Venezuelan legislators have been stripped of parliamentary immunity.
The absolute respect for the principle of separation of powers is essential for democracy. The decisions from the TSJ violate this principle and feed political radicalization in the country.
[Brazil] considers that the most pertinent solution for the re-establishment of normality is dialogue, and that the decision to reverse course on the crisis belongs to the Venezuelan government.
Chilean Foreign Affairs Minister Heraldo Muñoz reacted by saying:
In the name of the government of Chile, I want to express our deepest concern for the worsening of the situation in Venezuela.
Muñoz also said that Chile was “consulting with our friends on how to proceed”.
The United States Department of State posted the following statement on its official website:
The United States condemns the Venezuelan Supreme Court’s March 29 decision to usurp the powers of the democratically elected National Assembly. This rupture of democratic and constitutional norms greatly damages Venezuela’s democratic institutions and denies the Venezuelan people the right to shape their country’s future through their elected representatives. We consider it a serious setback for democracy in Venezuela.
The democracies of the Western Hemisphere, meeting this week in the Permanent Council of the Organization of the American States, called on Venezuela to respect its democratic institutions while it seeks a negotiated resolution to its political, economic, and humanitarian crises. 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 immediately release all political prisoners. Rather than discarding Venezuela’s institutions of democratic decision-making, the Venezuelan government should live up to the commitments it made during the 2016 dialogue process, its obligations to its own people, and its undertakings under the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
In Spain, El Pais – one of the country’s largest and most influential newspapers – published an article in today’s edition called “Coup d’Etat in Venezuela” in which denounces the Court’s ruling as “a reversal into dictatorship in Venezuela”.
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