CARACAS/LIMA, (Reuters) – A group of 12 regional nations plus the United States rejected Venezuela’s new government-allied legislative superbody, saying they would continue to regard the opposition-controlled congress as the country’s only legitimate law maker.
The move came after an announcement on Friday that the newly-created constituent assembly, elected in late July to re-write the crisis-hit country’s constitution, would supersede congress and pass laws on its own.
The Lima Group, including Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia and seven other regional governments, late on Friday joined the United States in criticizing the assembly for “usurping” the powers of Venezuela’s tradition congress.
The congress has been controlled by the opposition since 2016, but has been neutered by President Nicolas Maduro’s loyalist Supreme Court, which has tossed out almost every law it has passed.
“We reiterate our rejection of the constituent assembly and its actions,” the 12-member Lima Group said in a statement published by Peru’s foreign ministry.
“We ratify our full support for the Venezuelan congress.” it added.
Maduro has slapped the opposition with several measures blaming it for the unrest that killed more than 125 people in recent months as security forces met rock-throwing protesters with rubber bullets and water cannon. The U.N. says government troops used excessive force in many cases.
One of the measures is the assembly’s new truth commission that will investigate opposition candidates running in October gubernatorial elections, to see if they were involved in the deadly protests. Considering that many opposition figures supported the demonstrations, the commission could hobble their efforts at winning governorships in the upcoming vote.
Anti-government marches have stalled since the assembly was inaugurated on Aug. 5. The opposition was stunned by a threat of U.S. military action in Venezuela issued by President Donald Trump on Aug. 11.
The threat played into Maduro’s hands by supporting his oft-repeated assertion that the U.S. “empire” wants to invade Venezuela to steal its oil. The idea had been easily dismissed as absurd by opposition and U.S. officials before Trump’s surprise statement that “a military option” was on the table for dealing with Venezuela’s political crisis.
Over the days ahead the assembly says it will pass a law against “expressions of hate and intolerance,” which rights groups say is so vaguely worded it could allow for the prosecution of almost anyone who voices dissent.