Neighbours condemn Venezuela after dissenting chief prosecutor is fired
Luisa Ortega accused President Maduro of human rights abuses and fudging results of last weekend’s election of the new 545-member constituent assembly
A new assembly loyal to President Nicolas Maduro fired the country’s attorney general, Luisa Ortega, one of his most vociferous critics, triggering a firestorm of condemnation from the US and Latin American nations.
Ortega, who was barred by dozens of soldiers from entering her offices, has been a thorn in Maduro’s side for months, breaking ranks with him over the legality of the Constituent Assembly, which was elected last week in a vote marred by violence and fraud allegations.
She refused to recognise her sacking, or the assembly’s swearing in of Tarek William Saab, the national ombudsman, in her place.
“I am not giving up, Venezuela is not giving up and will not give up against barbarity, illegality, hunger, darkness and death,” she said.
US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert tweeted that the “United States condemns (the) illegal removal” of Ortega, adding the move was aimed at tightening the “authoritarian dictatorship of (the) Maduro regime.”
Colombia, Chile, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama and Peru equally slammed the decision, made by the Constituent Assembly as its very first order of business.
The assembly also said Ortega would face trial for “irregularities” from her time in office and was forbidden from leaving the country.
One of the assembly’s most prominent members, Diosdado Cabello, said of the firing: “This is not a personal, political lynching, just carrying out the law.”
Ortega’s sacking had been widely expected. But its swiftness - and the fact it was a unanimous vote - stirred wide unease.
Watch: Venezuela swears in new chief prosecutor
Also on Saturday opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was returned to house arrest after being detained in military prison for four days.
Lopez had been arrested along with another opposition leader Antonio Ledezma - who was released back to home detention Friday - in the aftermath of the highly contested vote to create the assembly.
Maduro and his Socialist party have “completely taken hostage” Venezuela’s institutions through “an undemocratic mechanism that is utterly dictatorial,” the leader of the opposition-controlled legislature, Julio Borges, said.
The opposition has vowed to maintain street protests against the assembly.
Four months of demonstrations violently matched by security forces have left at least 125 people dead.
But the rallies grew more muted this week as the assembly vowed to go after those seen as inciting street action.
As Ortega’s firing was announced, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil declared Venezuela was indefinitely suspended from the South American trading bloc Mercosur for its “rupture of the democratic order.”
The office of the head of the Organisation of American States endorsed the suspension.
“The countries of the region... must continue to tell the Venezuelan regime that in the Americas, there is no place for dictatorships or for the tyrants that lead them,” it said in a statement.
The international onslaught added to US sanctions imposed on Maduro after the Constituent Assembly’s election.
Maduro responded in an interview with an Argentine radio station that “Venezuela will not be taken out of Mercosur - never!”
He accused his Argentine counterpart, Mauricio Macri, of trying to impose a “blockade” on Venezuela and US President Donald Trump of wanting to grab the country’s vast oil reserves.
Maduro has around 20 per cent public support, according to surveys by the Datanalisis polling firm.
Ordinary Venezuelans are struggling, with food, essentials and medicine scarce, the currency rapidly depreciating, and inflation soaring. Thousands have sought shelter in neighbouring countries, particularly Colombia and Brazil.