The leader of Venezuela's coalition of opposition forces and the president of the National Assembly, Julio Borges, said President Nicolas Maduro had staged a coup and called for a military intervention.
Borges remarks followed a decision by the Supreme Court to take over legislative powers from the National Assembly for being in contempt of court. As the BBC reports, the charge stems from alleged electoral irregularities by three opposition lawmakers in the country's elections 2015. The power struggle between President Maduro and the main opposition coalition (MUD) has been ongoing since the government lost its majority in the National Assembly in 2015. Since then, the top court which is allied with Maduro, has annulled many of the assembly's decisions. But it had not directly taken over the assembly's functions.
That changed on Wednesday when the court gave President Maduro the authority to create joint oil ventures without congressional approval, by-passing the assembly.
The government-stacked Supreme Court argued that the Congress is in contempt of court for swearing in three – opposition – lawmakers from the state of Amazonas who have been accused of electoral fraud. The court said it will take over all “parliamentary capacities” until the conflict is resolved.
"As long as the National Assembly's contempt of court and invalidity persist, parliamentary powers shall be exercised directly by (the Supreme Court's) constitutional chamber or by the body it stipulates to safeguard the rule of law," the high court said in the ruling.
And, in what has been called a point of no return, Wednesday night’s ruling effectively shuts down the opposition-controlled Congress or National Assembly, as it is called in Venezuela.
The reaction from the opposition was swift, with Borges appealing to the public that "we have to call on the National Armed Forces (FAN), they cannot remain silent, they cannot remain silent in the face of the violation of the Constitution."
Quoted by El Nacional, Borges said that "we know that FAN officers are also going through drama caused by the high cost of life. We want to make a call on them to be the first guardians of democracy and the Venezuelan Constitution and that they become part of the solution," Borges said in a press conference.
Borges also called on the international community to “sound the alarms” and help pressure the socialist government of Nicolas Maduro to respect the Constitution and call for elections.
"This is a dictatorship and the world has to help Venezuelans to sound all the alarms,” Borges said. “We need the solidarity of all countries to continue the pressure (…) to carry out this year, as it is mandated by law and by the Constitution, elections for governors, mayors and also a general election," he said.
Borges also called for a national protest this weekend and urged Venezuelans to raise their voice. "We know there is fear, there is repression, but it is time to stand up," he said at a press conference.
Borges was joined by assembly’s Vice President Freddy Guevara who said earlier the ruling “marks a point of no return for the dictatorship.” Many are comparing it with the so-called “Fujimorazo” of April 1992, when Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori shut down Congress.
“It is no longer just a question of annulling everything that the National Assembly does,” Guevara said, “but of usurping all its powers, allowing them to approve new ‘sentencing laws’ that give more power to the dictator to continue hurting the people.”
Maduro has jailed scores of opponents ever since the opposition swept congressional elections by a landslide in 2015 and immediately set out to remove the socialist leader from office through a recall referendum. The high court a year ago issued an order automatically nullifying all legislation coming out of Congress, and earlier this week it moved to limit lawmakers' immunity from prosecution.
Most recently, President Maduro accused opposition lawmakers of treason, after they asked the Organization of American States to consider suspending Venezuela for violating democratic norms.
But foreign governments are increasingly decrying the shift toward authoritarian, one-party rule. Earlier this week, diplomats from the hemisphere gathered at the Organization of American States in Washington to debate whether to punish Maduro for breaking the democratic order and rule of law.
Meanwhile, the Venezuela hyperinflating economy continues to disintegrate, and as reported yesterday the country with the world's largest proven petroleum reserves ran out of gasoline for its citizens, ahead of billions in upcoming bond payments to be made by the state-owned PDVSA energy company, which instead of providing supplies is saving every dollar to avoid a default.