Political conflict between Venezuela's opposition-run legislature and socialist government flared again on Wednesday after the breakdown of Vatican-led talks, as each side moved to appoint its own members to the national election board.
The opposition Democratic Unity coalition blames President Nicolas Maduro for the OPEC nation's shrinking and dysfunctional economy, and wants to remove him through a referendum or by bringing forward the presidential vote due for late 2018.
Maduro, 54, says he will stay the course, and accuses opponents of sabotaging the economy to undermine him while also seeking a coup with U.S. connivance.
The feuding sides came together at the end of October in a dialogue convened by the Vatican and three former heads of government. But the opposition walked out last week saying officials were reneging on accords including an agreement to negotiate new members of the five-person election board.
That issue is central to Venezuela's long-running political conflict because the election board has quashed the opposition's request this year for a recall referendum and is viewed by many in Venezuela as being compliant towards the government.
On Tuesday, the National Assembly pressed ahead with a symbolic political trial of Maduro, declaring him responsible for economic hardship and rights abuses in the nation of 30 million people. Later, the Supreme Court, which normally backs Maduro, renewed the terms of two outgoing election board members, saying the Assembly was in “contempt” of the law.
Opposition leaders said that was an unconstitutional usurping of their functions and were set to appoint their own replacements for the two board members during a National Assembly session later on Wednesday.
“The Supreme Court cannot substitute the Assembly's responsibility,” said lawmaker Juan Pablo Guanipa, who sits on the assembly's appointments committee. “They have caused a war of powers, and this leads us to a situation of total non-governance in the nation.”
Government legislators, who walked out of the Assembly on Tuesday, lodged formal complaints at the Supreme Court and Comptroller's Office on Wednesday against opposition lawmakers.
“Not only are they seeking a coup d'etat against the president, but they are also flagrantly breaking the law,” said minority leader Hector Rodriguez.
While the politicians bicker, Venezuelans are reeling from a brutal economic crisis, with many skipping meals due to shortages and soaring prices in a third year of recession.
The surprise pulling from circulation of Venezuela's largest currency bill has added to consternation and chaos on the streets, generating huge lines at banks.