Venezuelan Court Revises Ruling on Taking Over Legislature


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President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, left, with Maikel Moreno, the president of the country’s Supreme Court, in Caracas on Friday.

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Reuters

IQUITOS, Peru — Venezuela’s Supreme Court on Saturday reversed parts of a decision to strip the national legislature of its powers, an abrupt shift that came amid mounting domestic and international criticism that the country was edging toward dictatorship.

“The decisions of the court have not divested the Parliament of its powers,” Maikel Moreno, the court’s chief judge, said in a news conference on Saturday afternoon. He said the Supreme Court should not be in conflict with other branches of government “because it is only an arbiter.”

The state television network VTV on Saturday morning published summaries of the court’s most recent rulings in which the judges said they had “suppressed” parts of an earlier decision to dissolve the legislature and allow the court to write laws itself. The network also said the judges were revising a decision to strip lawmakers of their immunity from prosecution.

Ernesto Villegas, the country’s information minister, wrote on Twitter on Saturday that the court was “correcting the rulings.”

But as of noon on Saturday, the court itself had yet to publish its rulings on its website, leaving it unclear how far the court planned to go in restoring the legislature’s powers.

Some analysts said they did not believe that the dispute between the court and lawmakers was over.

Margarita López Maya, a Venezuelan political scientist, said the court appeared to still hold the legislature in contempt, meaning that it might not be able to pass laws, even if the court agreed not to take over its legislative powers.

The court has also spent the past year overturning all major pieces of legislation passed by the chamber, Ms. López said — a situation, she added, that seemed unlikely to change.

“It’s like a chess game where you just moved one pawn,” she said.

Earlier in the day, President Nicolás Maduro’s office said it had asked the court to “review” its decision, which the court announced late Wednesday night. The president’s office said the review was necessary “to maintain constitutional stability.”

After the court’s initial decision, Mr. Maduro was hounded by criticism, including from his attorney general, Luisa Ortega, who held a dramatic news conference in which she said that the ruling violated the inclusive spirit of Venezuela’s laws. The decision by the court, which is packed with judges loyal to Mr. Maduro, represented “a rupture in the constitutional order,” Ms. Ortega said.

The president’s security advisers framed the court’s initial ruling as a “conflict between powers,” referring to the court and the legislature.

But it also generated condemnation outside Venezuela, with critics saying that the country had become a dictatorship in all but name. The Organization of American States, a regional body that aims to promote democracy, trade, and economic and social development, called the move a “self-inflicted coup,” while the United States and other countries condemned the decision as eroding the country’s democracy.

Before Ms. Ortega’s remarks, Mr. Maduro had appeared to be digging in, arguing in an address on state television that Venezuela was still democratic.

He said that the only “rupture to the constitutional order” had taken place in 2002 when members of the opposition staged an unsuccessful coup against his predecessor, Hugo Chávez.

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