Venezuela political crisis rages on; chief prosecutor removed from office

By JORGE RUEDA and JOSHUA GOODMAN

Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela — A newly installed constitutional assembly ousted Venezuela’s defiant chief prosecutor Saturday, a sign that President Nicolas Maduro’s embattled government intends to move swiftly against critics and consolidate power amid a fast-moving political crisis.

Cries of “traitor” and “justice” erupted from the stately, neo-classical salon were 545 pro-government delegates voted unanimously to remove Luisa Ortega from her post as the nation’s top law enforcement official and replace her with a staunch government supporter.

They said they were acting in response to a ruling by the government-stacked Supreme Court, which banned Ortega from leaving the country and freezing her bank accounts while it weighs criminal charges against her for alleged irregularities.

Ortega, a longtime loyalist who broke with the socialist government in April, refused to recognize the decision and vowed to continue defending the rights of Venezuelans from Maduro’s “coup” against the constitution “with my last breath.”

“This is just a tiny example of what’s coming for everyone that dares to oppose this totalitarian form of government,” Ortega said in the statement she signed as chief prosecutor. “If they’re doing this to the chief prosecutor, imagine the helpless state all Venezuelans live in.”

Earlier Saturday, Ortega was pushed and barred from entering her office by dozens of national guardsmen in riot gear who took control of the entrance to the building.

She alleged that authorities were desperate to get their hands on dossiers containing information on dirty dealings by high-level officials, including sensitive details about millions of dollars in bribes paid by Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.

Assembly delegates later swore in as her replacement Ombudsman Tarek William Saab, who was recently sanctioned by the Trump administration for failing to protect protesters from abuses in his role as the nation’s top human rights official.

Members of the all-powerful constitutional assembly had pledged in their first meeting to move quickly against Maduro’s opponents and didn’t disappoint.

“Don’t think we’re going to wait weeks, months or years,” former Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said Friday after she was chosen to lead the assembly. “Tomorrow we start to act. The violent fascists, those who wage economic war on the people, those who wage psychological war, justice is coming for you.”