Venezuela's opposition-controlled Congress voted on Monday to remove President Nicolas Maduro from his post based on the argument that he has “abandoned” his constitutional duties.
In theory, the country should now hold new presidential elections within 30 days. But not so fast. In a country where the ruling party still holds a tight grip on the military and the courts, analysts say it's unlikely that President Maduro will be ousted from office just yet.
Venezuela's Constitutional Court, which is stacked with pro-government judges, has already said that the legislature does not have the authority to remove the president from his post. The high court actually ruled on the matter in November, anticipating that the opposition congress would eventually try to boot the president.
Still congress' no-confidence vote is making international headlines, adding to the country's instability and threatening to trigger a new wave of protests against the embattled socialist government. The vote is also a sign that the opposition is taking off its gloves and taking a bare-knuckle fight to the president after talks with his government broke down in December.
Maduro, opposition lawmakers argued on Monday, has “abandoned” his job by allowing the country's economy and public health system to fall into ruin. Even though the president is still physically present in the country, he has long stopped fulfilling his duties and needs to be replaced, the opposition argued prior to the vote.
“Venezuela is on the verge of a famine,” said opposition congressman Juan Pablo Guanipa. “Nicolas Maduro abandoned his post when he destroyed this country's productive capabilities and gave people Cuban-style rationing cards. Cuba is no example for Venezuela.”
Government supporters described today's congressional proceedings as a “circus” and said the opposition is essentially trying to overthrow the government by invoking a legal clause that's intended to replace absentee heads of state.
“They are resorting to a ridiculous and absurd theory,” said Juan Marin, a pro-government congressman loyal to the president.
The vote came just three months after the opposition tried to get rid of Maduro by organizing a popular referendum, which was halted by loyalist judges in October.
The opposition held a massive march following the suspension of the referendum and attempted to organize a general strike. But protest efforts cooled after the Vatican stepped in and offered to broker negotiations between the opposition and the government.
While the talks led to the liberation of a dozen political prisoners, they have since sputtered. There is still no commitment from the government to holding free and fair elections. The government also cancelled last December's elections for state governors.
Monday's vote in congress signals that the opposition is now changing tack and prepared to take a more aggressive position this year.
“We are a legislature operating within a dictatorship,” opposition leader Freddy Guevara said today. “We must understand that the only way to have this vote respected…is with a massive, peaceful, and democratic mobilization of our people on the streets.”
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.