Dictator Nicholas Maduro tightened his grip even further on Venezuela by engineering a Supreme Court takeover of the functions of Congress.
The Maduro-controlled Supreme Court had already annulled most National Assembly decisions since the opposition won a legislative majority in late 2015 due to voter fury over an unprecedented economic crisis. But late on Wednesday, the court issued a new ruling declaring that it was assuming complete control of the legislature’s role in the Venezuelan government.
“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 decision.
The contempt charge stems from vote-buying accusations against three lawmakers from southern Amazonas state. Although the three legislators are no longer members of congress, the supreme court continues to use their case as an excuse to usurp the powers of congress, saying that parliamentary leaders did not handle their case properly.
The Venezuelan supreme court has been stacked over the years with political allies and supporters of Maduro. Critics of Maduro called the "contempt" charge an excuse for the president to consolidate unchecked power over the country and muzzle the opposition-- as his popularity plummets amid widespread disgust over a severe recession, hyperinflation and acute shortages of food and medicine.
The controversial Supreme Court ruling was instigated by Maduro's desire to obtain approval for oil joint ventures without the constitutionally-required vote by congress. Maduro is now desperately attempting to raise funds for bond payments and a reeling economy, by selling stakes in its oil fields to foreign countries. Venezuela's state oil company PDVSA recently offered Russia’s Rosneft a stake in the Petrolia oil joint venture.
Spooked by the opposition’s warning that investment deals bypassing Congress would not be valid, foreign oil companies are closely following the developments and refusing to comment on the political situation.
The opposition promised new street protests-- but that tactic has failed in the past despite marches that have drawn hundreds of thousands of protesters.
Last year, the opposition pushed for a referendum to recall Maduro and force a new presidential election, but Maduro officials thwarted those efforts. In addition, the Maduro government also postponed local electoral races that were supposed to have been held in 2016.