Venezuelan Supreme Court Declares Congress in Contempt

  • Three opposition lawmakers ordered by top court to stand down
  • Congress's actions null so long as disputed lawmakers remain

Venezuela’s Supreme Court ordered three opposition lawmakers to stand down and declared all decisions by congress null and void while they remain in office, just a week after the opposition took control of the national assembly for the first time in 16 years.

The lawmakers are under investigation and should not have taken their seats, the court said in a statement. Their removal would deprive the opposition of its so-called “super majority,” undermining attempts to challenge the socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro.

“The Supreme Court makes it clear what we warned,” congressmen and former National Assembly head Diosdado Cabello said after the decision was published. “Every decision made after the deputies were sworn in is null, illegal.”

The opposition has vowed to use the super majority it won in December elections to free political prisoners, unravel more than a decade of economic controls and seek the removal of Maduro. While congress has yet to approve any bills, the opposition was preparing the amnesty law and to appoint key congressional committees. The controversy is likely to fuel tensions in an already raucous congress that saw shouting and shoving matches across the aisle and walkouts by pro-government legislators last week.

The yield on the benchmark dollar bond due in 2027 rose 74 basis points to 27.7 percent, a four-month high, as of 11:23 today in New York.

No Doubt

“The stage is set for an intensification of the institutional crisis between the opposition-controlled National Assembly and the government-controlled Supreme Court,” IHS country risk analyst Diego Moya-Ocampos wrote in a research note on Tuesday.

Maduro’s opponents have long accused the executive of trampling the constitution and exerting undue influence over other arms of government. Now they say the administration is working to undermine a hard fought electoral victory.

“There is no doubt that Supreme Court is at the service of the government to nullify popular will,” National Assembly head Henry Ramos Allup wrote on Twitter Monday evening.

Supporters of Maduro’s leftist government cried foul after the opposition won a landslide victory in congressional election last month and issued challenges to three opposition lawmakers from Amazonas state.

Ramos Allup suspended congress’ planned meeting today, saying the opposing blocks did not have quorum to hold session. The newly installed-congress will decide Wednesday how to proceed following the Supreme Court’s ruling, he said.

Venezuela, which has the world’s largest reserves of oil, faces triple-digit inflation and chronic shortages of everything from chicken to car parts. By not recognizing congress, the government risks entering uncharted territory and may not have the resources necessary to remedy its current crisis, says Jose Vicente Haro, a constitutional law professor at the Catholic University Andres Bello, in Caracas.

“These are functions that are beyond political, they’re social and economic," he said. “It’s grave; it’s a crisis of governability,”

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