Venezuelan socialists seek to undermine opposition congress

AP News
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Posted: Dec 16, 2015 12:25 AM

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan socialists took another step to undermine the opposition's landslide in congressional elections, creating a new grassroots assembly that critics fear could become a vehicle to override the incoming opposition-led legislature.

On Tuesday, National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello presided over the inauguration inside the legislature building of the first-ever "National Communal Parliament" with the aim of giving revolutionary activists a mechanism to make decisions and manage resources.

Cabello didn't offer details on how the grassroots assembly, an outgrowth of the late Hugo Chavez*s dream of empowering self-administering communal councils, will operate.

But opponents fear it could be an attempt to wrest control from the incoming opposition-controlled congress much as other central government-created agencies have been entrusted with large budgets operating parallel to defunded districts where opposition politicians govern.

President Nicolas Maduro has been defiant in the face of the opposition*s winning a two-third supermajority in Dec. 6 elections, vowing to take to the streets to defend the revolution started by Chavez and blaming the loss on an "economic war" waged with U.S. support.

He also shot down several top priorities for the incoming congress, including an amnesty law for jailed activists the opposition considers political prisoners.

On Tuesday, in a meeting with grassroots activists, he praised the new legislative initiative with heated rhetoric.

"I*m going to give all the power to the communal parliament," Maduro said.

"This parliament is going to be a legislative mechanism from the grassroots. All power to the Communal parliament," he said, without giving details.

In another slap to the opposition, lawmakers also swore in Tuesday as the nation's top public defender the judge, Susana Barreiros, who this year sentenced opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez to nearly 14 years in jail.

Cabello is vowing to ram through in the coming days the appointment of 12 Supreme Court justices to fill vacancies left by pro-government judges who retired early rather than risk seeing the high court tilt toward the opposition.

The opposition's sweeping win gives it the power to challenge Maduro*s rule by removing ministers, passing laws without the executive*s support and even convoking an assembly to rewrite Chavez's 1999 constitution.