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Venezuelan Congress Rejects Constituent Assembly's Power Seizure


Members of the diplomatic corps, left , listen as lawmakers applaud during a session of Venezuela's National Assembly in Caracas, Aug. 19, 2017. Venezuela's pro-government constitutional assembly took over the powers of the opposition-led congress Friday.

Venezuela's opposition-controlled National Assembly met Saturday to reject the pro-government constituent assembly's proclamation of lawmaking authority a day earlier.

Outspoken opposition spokesman Freddy Guevara, the vice president of the National Assembly, on Saturday condemned the constituent assembly's power grab, and the body itself, as "null." He accused the pro-government assembly of acting to approve contracts and secure international financing in the midst of a national economic crisis, and he warned that congress wouldn't back agreements that violated the Constitution.

The National Assembly made its declaration of resistance in the presence of foreign diplomats from the United States, Britain, Mexico and Spain. The United States has rejected the authority of the constituent assembly and President Donald Trump, in a surprise move, last week even talked about the prospect of military intervention.

Lawmaking power

Saturday's meeting came in response to Friday's move by the constituent assembly, which gave itself the power to pass laws, seizing legislative power from the opposition-led congress.

The constituent assembly unanimously passed a decree enabling it "to legislate on matters directly aimed at ensuring the preservation of peace, security, sovereignty, the socioeconomic financial system, the purposes of state, and the preeminence of Venezuela's human rights."

While the decree did not explicitly dissolve congress, it stripped away the already diminished powers of the body.

The president of the constituent assembly, Delcy Rodriguez, said, "We are not going to allow more distortions, more deviations aimed at attacking Venezuela's state of law. The constituent [assembly] is here to bring order."

After the decree was passed, opposition lawmaker Omar Avila denounced the decision, stressing that the constituent assembly had not provided any solutions to the problems of everyday people.

"The constituent [assembly] is not meant to govern, it is not even meant to act as judges, acting and chasing those who think differently," Avila said.

Venezuelan National Assembly Vice President Freddy Guevara, left, speaks with lawmaker Stalin Gonzalez during a session in Caracas, Aug. 19, 2017.
Venezuelan National Assembly Vice President Freddy Guevara, left, speaks with lawmaker Stalin Gonzalez during a session in Caracas, Aug. 19, 2017.

Venezuela's opposition-led congress already has little power in the country as the Socialist-dominated Supreme Court has stripped it of many of its functions and overruled most of the laws it approved since the opposition took control last year.

Opposition leaders refused Friday to swear an oath of loyalty to the constituent assembly, which they have warned would crush dissent in the country.

International condemnation

The election of the assembly last month was boycotted by the opposition and triggered international condemnation. The body is charged with rewriting the country's 1999 constitution and has given permission to President Nicolas Maduro to rule by decree.

Maduro defends the all-powerful constituent assembly as the country's only hope for peace and prosperity.

As the constituent assembly continues to increase its powers, both the opposition and ruling leadership work to organize gubernatorial elections set for October.

The National Election Council's president, Tibisay Lucena, announced that the ruling and opposition parties had each registered more than 200 candidates for the upcoming elections.

On the streets of Venezuela's capital, opinions varied on whether to participate in elections.

Sanchez said government officials "have lost the notion of where they are standing and the historical moment," but he said elections are part of the constitution. "This is nothing new," he said.

Ricardo Moros of Caracas said, "I would not like to participate for the simple reason that I feel betrayed. To participate would be to give the go-ahead to the government."

'Duty to participate'

Political analyst Tony Tover told VOA that it in times of crisis, it is better to participate.

"We are in a dictatorship, we are not under a rule of law," he said. "Now, the elections of governors are constitutional, and therefore we democrats have the duty to participate."

Months of nearly daily protests against Maduro have left more than 120 people dead and hundreds more injured or jailed.

The opposition has blamed Maduro's policies for the economic crisis in the country. The government has argued that the opposition is working with the United States to violently overthrow the president.