Venezuela’s newly-established National Constituent Assembly (NCA) has taken over legislative powers from the opposition-led congress amid rising tensions between President Nicolas Maduro and his US-backed political foes.
The assembly delegates unanimously adopted a decree on Friday, authorizing it to “take over functions to legislate on matters directly concerned with ensuring peace, security, sovereignty, the socio-economic and financial systems, state assets and upholding Venezuelans’ rights.”
“All the organs of public power are subordinate to the National Constituent Assembly,” the decree added.
The body’s 545 members were elected on July 30 in a vote marred by opposition-led violence and allegations of fraud.
While the decree does not openly dissolve the congress, it effectively invalidates the legislature’s already-weakened powers.
One socialist party leader said for lawmakers to continue meeting in the congressional building, they would need to seek permission from the NCA.
“We will teach them a historic lesson,” NCA President Delcy Rodriguez said as delegates broke into loud applause while voting for the measure.
“We will not permit any more diverting of power” by the opposition, added Rodriguez, who formerly served as Maduro’s foreign minister. “The constituent assembly is here to impose order.”
Venezuela’s opposition leaders, however, insist that the new constituent assembly is a ploy by Maduro to tighten his grip on power.
The opposition-led National Assembly rejected the decree, stating on its official Twitter account that “the NCA is null and its acts are illegal and unconstitutional.”
Opposition lawmakers also reacted defiantly, urging Venezuelans and foreign diplomats to join them for a special legislative session on Saturday, during which they plan to renounce the NCA’s latest decree.
“The constructional assembly and all its acts are illegal and unconstitutional,” congress President Julio Borges declared via Twitter. “This decision won’t be accepted by the National Assembly, the international community or the people.”
Washington, which has imposed direct sanctions on Maduro, accused his administration of a “power grab… designed to supplant the democratically-elected National Assembly with an authoritarian committee operating above the law.”
“As long as the Maduro regime continues to conduct itself as an authoritarian dictatorship, we are prepared to bring the full weight of American economic and diplomatic power to bear in support of the Venezuelan people as they seek to restore their democracy,” said the US State Department in a Friday statement.
The development came after US President Donald Trump warned a week ago that he was considering various options to resolve the Venezuela crisis, “including a possible military option if necessary.”
Venezuela’s president was elected in 2013 but has been facing efforts by the foreign-sponsored opposition to force him out of office, after the oil-rich country was hit by a major economic downturn amid a slump in of global oil prices.
Nearly 130 people, including security forces, have been killed so far this year in a wave of anti-government violent protests.