The Cable

Venezuela’s AG Breaks Ranks With Maduro, Criticizes Court’s Congressional Takeover

The cracks in Venezuela’s chavista regime are starting to show.


“It constitutes a rupture of the constitutional order,” said Luisa Ortega, Venezuela’s attorney general and a longstanding ally of the ruling party, speaking of the government’s takeover of congress, its most baldfaced grasp yet at wrecking what remains of a historic democracy.

Or she was an ally, until Friday. After Venezuela’s Supreme Court assumed the functions of the country’s congress, seen by many as the last stronghold of political opposition, Ortega delivered a speech — live on state television — criticizing the power grab.

“It’s my obligation to express my great concern to the country,” Ortega said.

Pushback to the controversial decision was expected from the opposition and discontented citizens, some of whom took to the streets of Caracas on Friday. And it was expected from the international community — Peru cut ties with Venezuela on Thursday, and even the U.S. State Department condemned the move. (Foggy Bottom recalled that earlier in the week, the Organization of the American States had called on Venezuela to respect its democratic institutions.)

But what was unexpected — and potentially marks an inflection point in the festering Venezuelan political crisis — was pushback from a longstanding ally of the (admittedly wildly unpopular) President Nicolás Maduro live on state-controlled television. She was at an event to present her 2016 annual report, and ended up brandishing a copy of what she called “[Hugo] Chavez’s constitution.” Legislative speaker Julio Borges called on others to follow her example and listen to their consciences.

Activists have already been arrested for speaking out against a decision that comes amidst continued economic meltdown, runaway inflation, lack of access to basic resources like food and medicine, and soaring violent crime. A Univision correspondent was attacked by members of the Bolivarian National Guard while broadcasting. 

What price, if any, Ortega pays for her criticism is still to be seen. Stay tuned.

Update, March 31, 2017, 5:05 pm ET: This post was updated to include mention of the attack on the reporter.

Photo credit: JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is a foreign affairs reporter at BuzzFeed. She was a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2016-2018. @emilyctamkin

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