Monday, April 03, 2017

The President-for-Life Club

"This isn't any old sentence. It marks a point of no return on the road to dictatorship."
Freddy Guevara, deputy leader, National Assembly, Caracas, Venezuela

"[It is my] unavoidable historical duty [to denounce the Supreme Court's] rupture [of the constitutional order]."
"We call for reflection, so that the democratic path can be retaken."
Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (C) talks to Venezuela's Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz (L) during a meeting at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela April 1, 2017. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS

"What we've lived the last few hours has to be called what it is: a coup and an attempt to instill a dictatorship in Venezuela."
National Assembly President Julio Borges

"It's not clear exactly how wounded the government is. This is the first time since the opposition won the National Assembly in 2015 that they have managed to get the president to reverse a decision. So this is huge."
Javier Corrales, Amherst College, Massachusetts

"The dire situation we're living through in Venezuela remains the same. There is nothing to 'clarify' when it comes to respecting the constitution."
Henrique Capriles (former) presidential candidate, Caracas

Venezuela's jails are bursting with political opponents of the government. Somewhat like Russia's where opponents of the semi-dictatorial reign of Vladimir Putin share a similar fate. Something else that bears similarity between Venezuela and Russia; the political gerrymandering that gave Vladimir Putin the opportunity to alter the Russian constitution to enable him to stay on as president seemingly forever.

Turkey, where Recep Tayyip Erdogan took his cue from watching his Russian counterpart in action, is readying for a similar action, reliant on an upcoming vote giving him the authority to change the Turkish constitution to give him as president, even greater powers. In Paraguay people have rioted in protest over the Senate passing an amendment to their constitution that would give President Horacio Cartes the green light to seek re-election.

Hunger for control and power, the refusal to relinquish both leads leaders with undisguised ambitions to wield unconstitutional powers and to remain in control of their countries long after any democratic constitutional rules would allow them to, are in vogue among the autocrats seeking to become rulers-in-perpetuity. They need look no further than Robert Mugabe for inspiration, taking no lesson of his country's impoverishment, soaring inflation, and inability to feed Zimbabwe's population.

It's hard to imagine how Hugo Chavez would have managed his ambitions had he not relinquished his hold on life so prematurely, leaving his Bolivarian Revolution in the grasp of his hand-picked successor Nicolas Maduro. The wreckage of the Venezuelan economy that Chavez left has only intensified since the ascension to the presidency of Maduro who likely knew how to drive a bus but has driven the Venezuelan state into utter ruin; violent crime, runaway inflation, high unemployment, food scarcity, endemic poverty, rock the nation.

The Supreme Court had ruled last week that lawmakers were in contempt of court rulings and took steps to nullify all the chamber's passed legislation, leaving it to the high court or an institution that it would designate to assume the powers of the National Assembly. Another ruling passed earlier limiting lawmakers' immunity from prosecution heated the feud between the opposition and Maduro's supporters, among which the Supreme Court itself ranks.

The backlash both internally and externally was immediate and harsh, the situation belying the nation's democratic credentials. Leading President Maduro to backtrack, and to advise the Supreme Court it would do well to reverse its earlier rulings, thus leaving in abeyance the president's plans to increase his authority and power. In effect, demonstrating most effectively that the president in fact is in control of the Supreme Court, leaving no separation of powers.

National guard throws a tear gas canister during a rally against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, Venezuela April 1, 2017 REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

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