Opposition leaders branded Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro a “dictator” on Thursday after the Supreme Court took over the functions of Congress and pushed a lengthy political standoff to new heights, Reuters reports.
There was swift and widespread international condemnation of the de facto annulment of the National Assembly, where the opposition won a majority in late 2015 amid an unprecedented economic crisis that has seen Maduro’s popularity plummet.
The head of the 34-nation Organization of International States (OAS), Luis Almagro, said the Venezuelan court had dealt the final blows to democracy and accused Maduro’s “regime” of carrying out a “coup.”
Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Panama expressed strong concerns while Peru withdrew its envoy after what it termed a rupture of democracy.
The United States described the move as a “serious setback for democracy in Venezuela” while the European Union called for a “clear electoral calendar” going forward.
Venezuela’s top court had already overturned most National Assembly decisions since the opposition win. Then late on Wednesday, it explicitly stated it was assuming Congress’ role in a ruling authorizing Maduro to create oil joint ventures without the previously mandated congressional approval.
“As long as the situation of contempt in the National Assembly continues, this constitutional chamber guarantees congressional functions will be exercised by this chamber or another chosen organ,” the court said in its ruling.
The contempt charge stems from vote-buying accusations against three lawmakers from southern Amazonas state. Even though they no longer sit in Congress, the court said parliamentary leaders had not handled their case legally.
Critics of Maduro say it is an excuse for him to consolidate power and muzzle the opposition amid a severe recession, soaring inflation and acute shortages of food and medicine.
Maduro, a 54-year-old former bus driver and foreign minister, was narrowly elected in 2013 to replace late leftist President Hugo Chavez. He has accused Washington of leading a push to topple him as part of a wider offensive against leftist governments.
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