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Maduro in U-turn on Venezuela power grab

Venezuela’s government-controlled supreme court has reversed its ruling to strip the opposition controlled assembly of legislative powers in an effort to ease tensions amid growing cries of dictatorship.

“This controversy is over,” embattled President Nicolás Maduro said, “the constitution has won”.

The unexpected move came after a “state security committee”, convened by the socialist Mr Maduro, ordered the court to reconsider. The head of the supreme court on Saturday said that the judiciary was committed to the “stability and peace of the country, which is threatened by factions of the national and international right.”

The U-turn coincided with violence flaring in Paraguay after a secret congressional vote to allow the president to run for re-election.

The attempt to defuse tensions came after Venezuela’s top court, which is loyal to the ruling socialist party, shocked many on Wednesday with a takeover of the legislature. The court argued congress was in “contempt” of the law, sparking accusations that the crisis-ridden country was now a full-blown dictatorship. 

The court erased the controversial judgment, and an earlier ruling limiting immunity for deputies, on Saturday morning.

© Reuters

Although Mr Maduro cast the latest twist as having resolved a power clash, the move highlights his regime’s control of the courts. On Friday, in a rare display of friction, attorney-general Luisa Ortega Díaz publicly broke with Mr Maduro saying the ruling “constitutes a rupture of the constitutional order.”

International pressure had also been rising, with regional bodies arranging extraordinary sessions to discuss Venezuela’s situation in the coming days. The UN, the EU, and several Latin American neighbours had voiced concern over the power grab. Peru’s president recalled his ambassador to Caracas. 

Opposition leaders called on their followers to take to the streets after scuffles broke on Friday.

“You can’t pretend to just normalise the nation after carrying out a coup,” said Julio Borges, the legislature’s president, who earlier this week tore up the supreme court rulings in public.

But the assembly takeover only formalised what was already happening de facto. The country’s legislature has been neutered by judges since the opposition took control in January 2016, following elections. Last year, another loyal body, the electoral court, quashed a constitutionally allowed referendum initiative to remove Mr Maduro.

“The serious situation that our Venezuela is living is still the same,” two-times presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said on Saturday, “neither the coup d’état, nor anything else has been solved.”

The Opec nation is suffering its worst political, social and economic crisis in living memory.

Amid a double-digit recession and a triple-digit inflation, and facing $2.8bn in bond payments in April, analysts believe the supreme court’s move may have been partly driven by the government’s desperate need to raise cash — it came in a ruling allowing the president to establish joint oil ventures without parliament’s sign off.

Elías Matta, an opposition lawmaker and deputy president of the legislature’s energy and oil committee, said one of the government’s goals was to approve joint ventures between state-controlled oil company PDVSA and foreign energy companies, especially Russia’s Rosneft: “I have no doubt this was about oil and about money.”

Via FT