Maduro-controlled court in Venezuela power grab

President’s move on assembly seen as sign country’s ‘political system is crumbling’

Venezuela’s supreme court, which is controlled by President Nicolás Maduro’s socialist government, has ruled that it is taking over the opposition-dominated National Assembly, sparking fears that the crisis-riven country has moved towards full-blown dictatorship.

Venezuela’s political factions have been at loggerheads since the opposition won control of the legislature in 2015 congressional elections, ending more than a decade of near-complete governing control by the ruling socialist coalition.

The court ruling is a sign "that the country's political system is crumbling, and fast", said Peter Schechter of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC. "If there was any doubt before, there should no longer be one: Venezuela is a dictatorship."

The supreme court has overturned almost every piece of legislation passed by the assembly since the opposition took control, arguing it only won due to voter fraud in three districts, the basis of its latest ruling.


“The constitutional chamber shall ensure that the parliamentary powers are exercised directly by this chamber or by the body it appoints to ensure the rule of law,” the decision said.

Assume functions

The ruling late on Wednesday night was the first time the supreme court has said it would directly assume congress’s functions. It added that it would now authorise Mr Maduro to create joint oil ventures, bypassing the constitutional need for congressional approval.

Venezuela’s oil production has continued to fall even as oil prices have remained weak, leaving the country’s near $100 billion (€93 billion) of international debt teetering on the brink of default.

Opposition lawmakers drew comparison with Peru's infamous "self-coup" when then-president Alberto Fujimori dissolved congress in 1992.

"This ruling by the supreme court is rubbish and comes from those who have already kidnapped Venezuela's freedom," said Julio Borges, the assembly's president, who called for the army to stop the government. "It should be the first guardian of democracy."

Popular Will, a leading opposition party, called for public rallies, although million-strong street protests have repeatedly failed to produce any change.

Last year Mr Maduro suspended a constitutionally allowed referendum that would almost certainly have removed him from power.

Rolling crises

The region is increasingly anxious about Venezuela's rolling political, economic and social crises. The court ruling came just one day after 20 members of the Organisation of American States – including the US, Brazil and Mexico – urged Venezuela to respect the functioning of democracy. Venezuelan officials called the OAS meeting "an attack".

"The country has entered into an authoritarian and dictatorial dynamic," said OAS secretary-general Luis Almagro.

Venezuela is suffering widespread food shortages and skyrocketing inflation, which the government blames on hostile fascist forces. Last week, Mr Maduro called for the UN to provide humanitarian aid to help it face the “economic war”.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017