Venezuela’s supreme court reverses decision to strip legislature of its powers

President Nicolas Maduro unlikely to pull back from the course of confrontation he has set the country on

 

It seems that Venezuela’s supreme court has had a welcome rush of second thoughts. “What we meant to say ....”, the court seemed to pronounce on Saturday of its extraordinary Wednesday decision to strip the legislature of its powers, was that, of course, it had not done so.

The previous pronouncement was “suppressed”, said chief judge Maikel Moreno. The supreme court should not be in conflict with other branches of government, he stated, apparently newly discovering the principle of the separation of powers “because it is only an arbiter”. The court had also reversed a decision to strip lawmakers of their immunity from prosecution.

On the streets people remain unconvinced about the reversal of what was described at home and internationally as a “coup” by President Nicolas Maduro’s friends on the bench. Marching and protesting against the court’s decision (the original one) continues and the opposition, which controls parliament, protests bitterly at the retention by the president of broad new powers over the OPEC nation’s huge oil wealth. Notable among them is autonomy to sell stakes in financially-crippled Venezuela’s oil fields which contain the world’s largest reserves, or to launch new joint ventures with foreign firms.

Years of economic mismanagement have left many Venezuelans facing shortages of food and basic medicines, setting off widespread protests.

Maduro’s predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, had controversially nationalised those very oil fields, using their wealth to fund welfare and education programmes. But the dramatic fall in oil prices has plunged the economy and the increasingly autocratic regime into crisis. Years of economic mismanagement have left many Venezuelans facing shortages of food and basic medicines, setting off widespread protests.

Julio Borges: The president of the National Assembly has called on the army to stop the government and supreme court, which he charges have “kidnapped Venezuela’s freedom”. Photograph: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters
The president of Venezuela's National Assembly Julio Borges had called on the army to stop the government and supreme court, which he charged had “kidnapped Venezuela’s freedom”. It now seems that Venezuela’s supreme court has since had a welcome rush of second thoughts.  Photograph: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

Even within the administration, Maduro’s latest apparent lurch towards one-man rule has prompted outrage. Attorney general Luisa Ortega, a longstanding supporter of the president and of Chavez, complained at what she called the court’s “rupture in the constitutional order”. However, it is doubtful whether Maduro or his party are capable of pulling back from the course of confrontation they have set the country on.

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