On Saturday, August 5, Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega was forcibly removed from office in what she deemed to be a “siege” of power. She posted a number of photos on social media depicting the large number of troops surrounding her building and tweeted that she “denounce[d] this arbitrary act before the national and international community.”
This decision comes the day after Ortega stated her intent to investigate the election, which allowed for the creation of the National Constituent Assembly, a controversial new legislative body. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro called for the vote that led to the establishment of this body, which takes the place of the opposition-led National Assembly.
Many fear that the creation of the National Constituent Assembly is an attempt to infringe on democracy and take power away from the people. The new body is made up of 545 members, the majority of which are pro-government loyalists. Furthermore, the new legislative body will have the ability to rewrite the constitution and dissolve state institutions, all without input from the people. The opposition have used this fact to further their belief that Maduro leads an authoritarian and oppressive regime, one without the best interest of citizens in mind.
Many nations spoke out against the formation of such a body, with over 40 saying that they refuse to recognize the assembly. One nation was the Vatican, which said the assembly “create[s] a climate of tension and conflict” in what is a largely Catholic nation. In addition, the opposition has plans to enact a protest of the assembly in the coming days.
In the aftermath of the vote, a number of accusations in regards to voter fraud have come to light, bringing into question the legitimacy of the results. These claims are supported by London-based Smartmatic, the company that provided the technology for the vote. In a statement released Wednesday, it was said that the National Electoral Council voting numbers are off by 1 million votes.
The newly formed National Constituent Assembly spoke out against these statements, believing that it was an attempt from “international interference” to discredit Maduro’s government. Delcy Rodriguez, the President of the new assembly, stated, “President Maduro: we are not going to leave you alone,” demonstrating the support of the group to their leader.
Ortega, a vocal critic of Maduro’s government, jumped on this information and released a number of statements, saying, “It’s very serious, I believe we have to investigate and determine who is at fault.”
Furthermore, Ortega criticized the creation of the body itself, saying, “They can do all they want. We are going to have a legislative body with super powers,” Ortega said. “It’s important for the country to know the reach of this fraud and if it constitutes a crime,” she added. Many took Ortega’s statements as on attack of Maduro’s leadership skills.
It comes as no surprise then that the assembly unanimously voted to remove Ortega from her position. According to CNN, while the vote was taking place, pro-government delegates could be heard shouting “traitor” in reference to Ortega. Ortega will be replaced by staunch government supporter Tarek William Saab. It is expected that Saab will be more willing to work with the government and the assembly with little opposition.
Moreover, many argue that the decision to remove Ortega is an attempt to stifle opposing speech and thoughts in an increasingly pro-government political sphere. Furthermore, by stopping those in power who oppose the government, it is posited the Venezuelan government hopes to further scare others from expressing dissenting views. This goes directly against the Venezuelan Constitution, which allows for freedom of speech. However, this correlates with a recent trend in the nation of attempting to censor citizens due to government pressure. As such, many critics worry that this trend will see an upward growth following the formation of the National Constituent Assembly.