Venezuela’s political crisis intensified on Monday after the Supreme Court effectively barred the country’s opposition-led congress from passing any new laws.
In a controversial ruling, the high court said that any action taken by the newly-elected National Assembly will be “absolutely invalid” until three lawmakers, whose election has been challenged by the ruling party of President Nicolas Maduro, are removed from their posts.
The three legislators, who represent opposition parties, give Venezuela’s opposition a two-thirds congressional majority that would increase its ability to remove Maduro from office through a referendum. The super-majority would also give the opposition more leverage over economic policy in a country that is currently facing the world’s highest inflation rate and a severe economic contraction.
The congressmen at the center of the institutional crisis hail from the remote Amazonas state. They were sworn into office last week by the National Assembly’s new president, even though a court order issued in late December said that they could not take their seats until judges investigated electoral complaints filed by Maduro’s Socialist party.
Opposition leaders said last week that any attempt to stop the National Assembly from legislating would be the equivalent of a “coup” and a violation of the Venezuelan people’s will.
Venezuela’s government has argued the three legislators won their posts through vote-buying schemes. According to the Supreme Court ruling, congress violated Venezuela’s constitution by swearing in congressmen whose seats are under dispute.
Opposition politicians accuse the country’s judicial system of ruling consistently in favor of the government, and of basically working as another branch of the socialist administration.
A recent study, conducted by four Venezuelan attorneys, found that between 2004 and 2014 Venezuela’s Supreme Court issued 45,474 rulings on electoral, political and constitutional matters. The study found the court never issued any rulings against the Venezuelan government.
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.