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Venezuelan security forces took up positions outside the office of the country’s chief prosecutor on Saturday, a day after the government inaugurated a new legislative body that the prosecutor said was fraudulently elected. Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega had asked a local court to halt the inauguration of the country’s new 545-member constituent assembly, citing allegations that the government fudged the results of the vote that created it.
The new legislative body has no checks on its powers. It could re-write the constitution, re-arrange state institutions and allow socialist President Nicolas Maduro to rule by decree. Assembly members had said they would fire Ortega the first chance they got. It took less than 24 hours from the assembly’s inauguration for her offices to be cordoned off.
Ortega, in a tweet, asked the international community to denounce what she called “arbitrary action” of security forces blocking entrance to her offices. Luis Almagro, head of the Organization of American States, said he was concerned that evidence against Maduro’s government was at risk of being compromised by the security forces surrounding Ortega’s office.
“Aggression against her is aggression against all of us,” Almagro tweeted, adding that the presence of the security forces “puts evidence of human rights violations and corruption on the part of the (Maduro) regime at risk.” Since the opposition started a round of protests in April, Ortega has become the president’s main challenger from within the ruling socialist movement, accusing him of human rights abuses and of running roughshod over democracy.
The opposition, which won control of congress in 2015, boycotted Sunday’s vote, calling it a naked power grab by Maduro. The boycott meant that all candidates for the new assembly were from Maduro’s coalition, giving him carte blanche to pass laws aimed at locking his policies into place.
The assembly was installed despite opposition street protests. More than 120 people have died in four months of sustained marches against Maduro. Critics say his policies have pushed Venezuela into an economic crisis marked by triple digit inflation and severe shortages of food and medicine. Maduro says the U.S. “empire” is waging economic war on Venezuela and refuses to allow humanitarian aid to enter the country. He says the new assembly is the only way to unify Venezuela into a peaceful, prosperous socialist state.
Former Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez, a hard-line Maduro loyalist, was named president of the new assembly. “There is no humanitarian crisis here. What we have is love. What we have is a crisis of the right-wing fascists,” said Rodriguez, in a fiery inaugural address in which she paid homage to late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s mentor and predecessor.
The assembly will function in the same downtown Caracas legislative complex as the existing opposition-run congress, which could potentially be dissolved. For now, the two bodies are set to hold sessions in parallel, separated by an ornate cobblestone courtyard.