Venezuelan Democracy Takes Another Blow as Congress Bypassed

  • Supreme Court strips National Assembly of budget oversight
  • Congress president says court is showing a ‘criminal attitude’

Venezuela’s democracy took another blow late Tuesday when the Supreme Court ruled that its constitutional chamber had the authority to approve the 2017 budget instead of the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

Citing a previous ruling that nullified any acts passed by the National Assembly after it reinstated three disputed lawmakers and President Nicolas Maduro’s emergency powers, the court bypassed the congress completely. The government now has five days to submit the budget to the constitutional chamber, one of the Supreme Court’s six chambers.

The ruling will intensify a political standoff in the country as the opposition tries to gather signatures later this month to push for a recall vote on Maduro in the face of a collapsing economy and rampant inflation. Since winning control of congress in December elections, the opposition has seen most of its legislative initiatives blocked or overturned by the Supreme Court, which was stacked with pro-Maduro judges by the outgoing, pro-government congress.

“The National Assembly abandoned the path of the constitution and is on the edge of the abyss,” Maduro said at a political rally broadcast on state television, confirming he will submit the budget to the high court. The assembly “is a step away from auto-dissolving.”

Henry Ramos Allup, the president of the National Assembly, was equally derisive.

“The court’s unconstitutional chamber, faithful to its criminal attitude, published its ruling at midnight and decided that the regime can send its 2017 budget to the court,” Allup said in a post on his Twitter account.

Congress has warned investors that any international financing deals struck by Maduro’s government without congressional approval could be null and void.

A future administration would have a “strong legal argument” to invalidate any debt contracted in 2017 if congress doesn’t approve the Annual Indebtedness Law this year, Francisco Rodriguez, chief economist at Torino Capital, said in a research note Tuesday. Debt issued by the state oil company PDVSA, the central bank and public-sector banks are exempt from legislative approval.

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