Published On: Mon, Mar 7th, 2016

Venezuela lawmakers announce plan to oust Maduro

MaduroA bit of financial juggling may have helped Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s embattled socialist president, stave off a default after paying $1.5bn to international creditors last month.

But that will not save him from being removed from office, the opposition claims, and sooner rather than later.

The coalition Mesa de la Unidad Democrática, which controls the legislature, is planning to oust Mr Maduro before his term ends in 2019 via a constitutional amendment to cut his term short, a recall vote on his mandate, and a national campaign calling for his resignation.

“Venezuela is . . . more clear [than ever] on the absolute need to get rid of this government,” Jesús Torrealba, head of the opposition group, said in Caracas.

Mr Maduro, is defiant, countering that “no one will take me away from here, gentleman”. But while friendly governments in Brazil and Bolivia are wrestling with corruption-related scandals, and Caracas’ ally Raúl Castro is due to shake hands with US President Barack Obama in Havana this month, he is increasingly isolated.

Two months ago, following a landslide victory amid widespread discontent, the opposition took over the national assembly for the first time since the late Hugo Chávez launched his socialist revolution in 1999. Some of its leaders then vowed to remove Mr Maduro from power within the first half of 2016.

The executive and the legislative branches have been locking horns ever since. In the latest move to stymie lawmakers’ powers, the Supreme Court banned the legislature from removing some controversial justices hurriedly appointed by the previous legislature on the eve of the opposition takeover.

“We honestly have no doubt that none of these initiatives will succeed,” said Diosdado Cabello, a powerful socialist lawmaker, who swore in some of the judges who have been backing the government in a stream of rulings that undermine the powers of the opposition-controlled legislature.

That same court is likely to trounce any attempt to reduce Mr Maduro’s term, exacerbating the ongoing feud. “There is no food, no medicines, no security, no electricity, no water but there are unconstitutional sentences from the Supreme Court to sustain a dying regime,” said assembly speaker Henry Ramos Allup.

With official inflation at 181 per cent and the economy shrinking 5.7 per cent in 2015, tensions continue to rise in oil-rich Venezuela. The latest court move spurred riots in the western city of San Cristóbal, a hotbed of the nationwide anti-government protests that left 43 people dead two years ago.

The outlook was bleak, said Siobhan Morden, head of Latin America fixed-income strategy at Nomura, because “chavismo is ideologically constrained to address the crisis and remains opposed to any co-operation with the opposition”.

The crisis might be considered purely political if it were not for Venezuela’s dire economic and social predicament– International Crisis Group

For the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental organisation committed to preventing and resolving conflict, a deeper crisis looms.

“The bottom line is that a major constitutional confrontation is under way that threatens to exacerbate the country’s other woes and provoke violence on the streets. Some observers fear the armed forces may intervene if the deadlock is not resolved,” its analysts said in a recent note.

The institutional feud only exacerbates the current woes in the country, which has the world’s largest oil reserves. “The velocity of possible regime change is uncertain,” explained Michael Penfold, a political analyst and co-author of Dragon in the Tropics: The Legacy of Hugo Chávez. But, he added, “the situation is delicate”.

On Thursday Mr Obama renewed a decree that a year ago declared Venezuela a “national emergency”, citing “erosion of human rights guarantees, persecution of political opponents, curtailment on press freedoms” and “significant government corruption”.

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