Maduro’s Constituent Assembly claimed its first victim today: Luisa Ortega Diaz. The attorney general, appointed by Hugo Chavez to the position in 2007, was unceremoniously fired by the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ) at around noon.
People’s Defender Tarek William Saab has been appointed as her replacement. Saab’s term as the top human rights defender in the country has been characterized by his unwillingness to take a stand against the ongoing and severe human rights violations committed by the Maduro regime and its agents.
Over the past four months, the Ortega Diaz has become an outspoken critic of the regime’s systemic human rights abuses. Ortega Diaz helped to keep the Chavez and Maduro regimes afloat by overseeing the persecution of political prisoners since her appointment to the office in 2007. It was only in late March after she began to publicly condemn the Maduro government that the regime began to allege that she was not fit for duty.
Earlier in the day, Ortega Diaz spoke to reporters outside of the Public Ministry building in Caracas, which was at the time heavily militarized. On the possibility that she would be fired today, Ortega Diaz said:
I’m don’t fear for my job. I fear for my country.
Saab was sworn in at a ceremony headed by Delcy Rodriguez, the president of the Constituent Assembly. Holding his left hand in the air, Saab promised “in the name of the father of our homeland, our Constitution of 1999, and our brothers in arms” to carry out his new duties, and to “restore judicial order” in Venezuela.
National Assembly president Henry Ramos Allup pointed pointed out that under the new arrangement, Tareck William Saab is both defender, as People’s Defender, and prosecutor as attorney general.
Ortega Diaz’s Firing Foreshadowed by Military Presence at Public Ministry
Luisa Ortega Diaz’s firing was foreshadowed just a few hours prior to its formalization by a heavy National Guard presence at the Public Ministry building in Caracas starting in the early morning.
Ortega Diaz announced the massing of soldiers outside of the building early this morning with the tweet below:
I reject this attack against the Public Ministry. I denounce this arbitrary action before the national and international community.
Ortega Diaz Releases Statement
In the mid-afternoon, Ortega Diaz issued a formal statement denouncing her removal from office and warning Venezuelans about the “totalitarian” government that is now running the country.
Below, my translation of Ortega Diaz’s press release:
Today, I denounce that the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia and the illegal presidential National Constituent Assembly decided to remove me from my post as Attorney General of the Republic so that I cannot continue to defend the people\’s rights, ignoring both the Constitution and the laws.
This is why I must stress that in Venezuela there is a coup against the Constitution underway, which is being promoted by the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia and the National Executive [the president]. That is the only name of the process that we are living during these hours, and that the international community must be alarmed.
I have said this before and I will say it again: I am ignoring the decisions that this illegitimate group of magistrates at the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia and will not follow them, because they are outside of the Constituent and the law.
The Public Minister is loyal to the Constitution of 1999, and under that premise we will stand until the end.
People of Venezuela: This is not about Luisa Ortega Diaz or the Public Ministry; we are but an small example of that which is coming for all who dare to oppose totalitarianism. If they are doing this to the Attorney General, how defenseless are the rest of Venezuelans?
Ending the autonomy of the Public Ministry will affect the victims of human rights violations and the victims of crime, and will perpetuate the embezzlement of the nation through the implementation of economic policies that create corruption, and those who today govern without the consent of the people.
To the National Executive: Venezuela and the world are aware that you are the main parties responsible for this coup against the State, and as such you will bear responsibility in history for the destruction of Venezuelan democracy.
I remind those who currently hold positions of power in other institutions that history has a solid record on those men and women who, having the authority to put a stop to arbitrariness, instead help to perpetuate it.
I will not surrender, Venezuela does not surrender and will not surrender before barbarity, illegality, darkness and death. Our people must maintain their hopes and unity alive.
I will continue to fight for Venezuelans, for their freedoms and rights, until my last breath and from wherever I may be.
Constituent Assembly Will Sit For at Least Two Years
The Constituent Assembly will reign supreme, unable to be opposed by any individual or institution in Venezuela, for at least two years. The two-year figure came from Constituent Assembly deputy Diosado Cabello, who proposed it during the Assembly’s first meeting this morning by saying:
We could do our work in a month, but we’d like to propose that this assembly’s work be extended for two years.
Cabello’s motion was approved by applause.
Venezuela Suspended from Mercosur Over Hard Drive to Authoritarianism
Mercosur held a meeting today in which it decided to formally expel Venezuela from the regional trade bloc over the Maduro regime’s installation of the Constituent Assembly, a move that has been denounced by critics as the formalization of dictatorial rule in Venezuela.
Citing the “rupture in democratic order” for its decision, Mercosur issued a statement saying:
Venezuela’s suspension has been carried out as a result of the action of the Nicolas Maduro government, and is a call for the immediate start of a political transition process and for the restoration of democratic order.
This is only the second time that Mercosur has suspended a member state over that state breaking democratic order and turning towards authoritarianism. The previous time was in 2012 against Paraguay, whose president was removed from office in what was widely regarded to be a coup d’etat.
Before Suspension, Venezuela Long Gone from Mercosur
Venezuela’s ejection from the bloc would not necessarily result in a catastrophic effect for the country’s economy.
El Universal reports that since Venezuela joined Mercosur in 2012 until the end of last year, trade between the country and the bloc has fallen 66.7%. While imports into Venezuela fell a staggering 63.8% during that period of time (from $7.76 billion in 2012 to $2.81 billion in 2016), exports out of Venezuela into Mercosur countries fell even more: 78.14%, from $1.98 billion in 2012 to a mere $433 million in 2016.
Food imports–on which Venezuela relies given its inability to produce enough food to feed itself–fell by 53.7%.
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