Region Responds to the Side-Lining of Venezuela’s National Assembly

On August 18, Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly (ANC) unanimously approved a decree in which the body assumed legislative authority over key issues facing the country. While the Venezuelan government has taken pains to assert that the move does not technically constitute the “dissolution” of the opposition-controlled National Assembly—the country’s legislative branch—the decision has been challenged by the opposition and widely condemned by regional governments.

Almost immediately after the move, the most high-profile Venezuelan officials associated with the ANC began to come about ahead of anticipated international backlash.  The ANC Vice President Elvis Amoroso asserted that the decree declares the ANC’s authority to legislate “on matters directly aimed at guaranteeing the preservation of peace, security, sovereignty, the socioeconomic and financial system, the goals of the State and the preeminence of the rights of Venezuelans.”

ANC representative and Vice President of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), Diosdado Cabello, took pains to tell reporters that the legislature was not being disbanded but could “continue to work, continue to meet.” Delcy Rodriguez, former Venezuealn foreign minister and President of the ANC, made similar claims.

However, the fact that consequential decisions made by the legislature had been officially stripped of their authority has not been lost on many Venezuelans. José Ignacio Hernández, a Venezuelan constitutional scholar, told Prodavinci he believed that the fact that the ANC formally assumed legislative powers “corroborates what the Constituent Assembly has been doing since the first day [of its creation], August 4, which is to be instituted as the supreme and absolute organ of the state.”

Other analysts, like the Venezuelan legal expert Juan Manuel Raffalli, see the matter as more of the same. Raffalli told Prodavinci that he interpreted the ANC decision in a similar light as a March 2017 Supreme Court (TSJ) decision, in which the court took over essential decisions previously relegated to the legislature.

Representatives to the National Assembly, for their part, have rejected the ANC’s decision, citing the fact that the body was fraudulently elected as evidence of its lack of legitimacy, and have insisted that they will continue to meet and legislate in accordance with their constitutional mandate.

The ANC announcement has been met with widespread international condemnation. The Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General Luis Almagro condemned the move and repeated his recent calls to hold yet another meeting of the OAS Permanent Council. The U.S.  Department of State issued a statement calling it a “power grab” against the National Assembly’s status as the “only legitimate legislative body” in Venezuela, and reiterated Vice President Mike Pence’s promise to bear the full weight of U.S. economic and diplomatic power to restore Venezuela’s democratic institutions.

Other regional governments, like that of Panama, outright condemned the announcement. The government of Costa Rica also joined in the regional condemnation of the move, citing last week’s Lima Declaration signed by 12 regional governments—in which the signers also agreed not to legally recognize neither the ANC nor decisions made without the necessary backing of the legislature.

On August 19, the 12 countries that signed the Lima Declaration—which include Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, and Peru—issued a joint statement condemning the move. The countries asserted once again that they will not recognize the Constituent Assembly or its decisions, declared their full support for the legislative branch, and expressed a commitment to applying the Inter-American Democratic Charter against Venezuela.

As political analyst Dimitris Pantoulas told the Wall Street Journal, the widespread international condemnation of the ANC will make it harder for the government to present economic deals and international loans signed without ratification of the legislature as legitimate. As Pantoulas points out: “The constituent assembly is supposed to be the supreme power of the state, but what they do won’t be totally legal because so many countries don’t accept it.”