Venezuela’s Supreme Court has consolidated President Nicolás Maduro’s power with a decision that removes budgetary authority from the nation’s Congress
Venezuela’s Supreme Court has consolidated President Nicolás Maduro’s power with a decision that removes budgetary authority from the nation’s Congress, the only institution that is controlled by the opposition.
The ruling late Tuesday came as opponents of the president prepared to gather enough signatures for a recall referendum to force him from office.
The judges’ decision allows the court itself to approve Mr. Maduro’s budget, which he is expected to present by decree on Friday. The move caps a yearlong effort by the leftist government to use the courts, which are controlled by Maduro loyalists, to neutralize the Congress.
It could also forecast a more aggressive campaign by Mr. Maduro to derail the recall referendum.
Mr. Maduro came to power in 2013 upon the death of Hugo Chávez, the charismatic former army officer who founded Venezuela’s populist, leftist movement. But after Mr. Maduro’s own election three years ago, the price of oil, which had financed Mr. Chávez’s many ambitious programs, went into a global tailspin.
Since then, Mr. Maduro has presided over an economic collapse; food, medicine and electricity shortages; and rising crime.
On Wednesday, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, a United Nations agency, forecast that Venezuela’s economy would shrink by 8 percent this year.
Removing Mr. Maduro was a central pledge of opposition lawmakers when they took control of the Congress in January. A vote against the president in a recall referendum, were it held this year, would prompt a new election that would challenge leftists’ grip on the presidency. But if the vote was put off until next year and succeeded, Mr. Maduro would be replaced by his vice president.
Mr. Maduro has called the recall effort the equivalent of a coup.
On Oct. 26, the opposition will begin three days of collecting the signatures required to reach the threshold for calling the referendum — 20 percent of voters.
Critics have said that the government placed restrictions on the process, particularly on the number of polling sites, which will make it challenging for Mr. Maduro’s opponents to gather the four million signatures they need.
The Supreme Court justified its budget ruling as a means to guarantee constitutional order.
“For the first time in Venezuelan history, the government is going to approve its own budget,” said José Guerra, an opposition legislator who is the president of the finance commission. “This has always been the Parliament´s job.”
The ruling by the court’s constitutional chamber follows a raft of decisions against the opposition. The court has declared Congress in contempt and ruled that its laws are therefore unconstitutional. That dispute stems from the assembly’s decision to seat three legislators in defiance of another ruling by the court.
The courts also overturned an opposition law meant to stabilize the economy, limited lawmakers’ power to remove judges, and ratified an emergency decree that legislators had rejected.
In addition, judges invalidated a law that would have freed some 120 prisoners, many of them opposition politicians or activists jailed by the government during protests. The court’s initial onslaught against the assembly’s authority was a demoralizing blow to lawmakers who had taken power promising to free the prisoners immediately.