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World

Venezuela's Supreme Court Takes Over Opposition-Controlled Congress

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In Venezuela, the supreme court has effectively shut down the congress, and the congress was the only branch of government not controlled by the ruling Socialist Party. Critics are calling this a major blow to democracy. Reporter John Otis has more.

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: In a ruling late Wednesday night, the supreme court declared that the National Assembly, the name for Venezuela's congress, was in contempt and that the court would assume legislative functions. That decision puts even more power in the hands of Venezuela's president, Nicolas Maduro, because, according to many analysts, the supreme court answers to him. Opposition lawmakers were quick to react.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

JULIO BORGES: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: In front of TV cameras, Julia Borges, president of the National Assembly, ripped up a copy of the supreme court's decision and called it garbage. Critics decried the court's move as the latest sign of Maduro's authoritarian shift. His government is holding more than 100 political prisoners. It has canceled elections and cracked down on the media.

The opposition won control of the National Assembly in elections in 2015, but the supreme court has annulled nearly every decision it has taken. The court's ruling to take over legislative functions stems from accusations of voter fraud in the election of three opposition lawmakers. Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director for Human Rights Watch, says that's just an excuse for Maduro to seize even more power.

JOSE MIGUEL VIVANCO: That's why we are facing a turning point, and Venezuela cannot be called any longer a democratic government. And it's a - in plain language, a dictatorship.

OTIS: This political crisis, as well as the country's ongoing economic meltdown, prompted the Organization of American States, known as the OAS, to hold a special meeting Tuesday to discuss Venezuela. OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro said that elections are the democratic solution for Venezuela, but Diosdado Cabello, a top Venezuelan official, disagreed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DIOSDADO CABELLO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: He accused the OAS of paving the way for a foreign invasion. For NPR News, I'm John Otis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.