Venezuela’s powerful constituent assembly is going after opposition leaders that supported U.S. financial sanctions on the regime of socialist leader Nicolas Maduro.
In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the newly installed legislature approved a decree calling for the investigation of “traitors” that are accused of partnering with the U.S. and other foreign governments to subvert the Venezuelan government, the BBC reported.
“Those who call for treason leave us no option but to treat them as enemies of their own country,” said Diosdado Cabello, a national assembly delegate from the ruling socialist party, according to the Associated Press.
The constituent assembly was inaugurated last month following contentious elections widely condemned as illegitimate by Venezuelan opposition and international observers. Packed with Maduro loyalists, it is the highest political authority in Venezuela and has the power to rewrite the constitution.
Washington levied sanctions against the Maduro government last week, banning the trade of new Venezuelan debt securities in U.S. financial markets. The punitive measures followed individual sanctions against dozens of top Venezuelan officials, including Maduro himself, in late July. (RELATED: Trump Hits Maduro Regime With New Financial Sanctions)
At Maduro’s urging, the assembly responded by targeting prominent members of the Venezuelan opposition that had praised the U.S. sanctions. Assembly members took turns identifying potential subjects of treason investigations during a three-hour session Tuesday.
Among those singled out was Julio Borges, president of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled congress, who was called “one of the real enemies of Venezuela” for asking Goldman Sachs to refrain from Venezuelan bonds, according to the BBC. Assembly members also denounced former chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega, a onetime Maduro supporter now in quasi-exile for criticizing government corruption in Venezuela.
Following the assembly’s vote, the UN released a report highlighting the extent of the regime’s political repression of opposition groups. Under Maduro’s increasingly authoritarian rule, Venezuelan security forces have implemented “generalized and systematic use of excessive force” against demonstrators and “arbitrary detention” of political dissidents, according to the report.
“The policies pursued by the authorities in their response to the protests have been at the cost of Venezuelans’ rights and freedoms,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement.
Citing NGO estimates, the UN said that more than 5,000 people have been detained since widespread demonstrations kicked off in late April. More than 1,000 of those were still imprisoned as of July 31.
At least 124 people have been killed in clashes between anti-regime groups and security forces, according to the UN report.
As it slides further into authoritarian rule, the Maduro regime has come under fire from Washington and other foreign governments. The Trump administration has labeled Maduro a “dictator” and a threat to stability in the West.
Even some Latin American leaders, who are typically wary of being perceived as too closely aligned with Washington, have echoed that assessment. Peruvian President Pablo Kuczynski rejected Maduro’s offer to meet face-to-face last week, instead claiming that his Venezuelan counterpart should step down.
“He’s a dictator and has carried out a coup through a fraudulent election to eliminate Congress,” Kuczynski said, according to Reuters.
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