Caracas: A super-legislative body loyal to President Nicolas Maduro revoked the immunity of two Venezuelan opposition lawmakers Wednesday, in order to put them on trial for allegedly masterminding a drone “assassination” bid on the leader.
Maduro, who has systematically sidelined the opposition as he tightens his grip over his troubled nation, accuses the opposition and Colombia of being behind Saturday’s drone “attack.”
He has singled out two lawmakers: Julio Borges, former speaker of the opposition-dominated legislature who now lives in exile; and Juan Requesens.
Requesens was seized by intelligence officers overnight, while Venezuela’s Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered Borges’ arrest.
The Constituent Assembly — a body set up last year by Maduro to arrogate powers from the elected legislature — followed up by stripping Borges and Requesens of their immunity.
The elected body, called the National Assembly, has said it will dismiss any attempt to remove its members’ immunity as unconstitutional. Its past decisions, however, have been annulled by the Supreme Court.
Attorney General Tarek William Saab said moves were being made to put Requesens on trial, while Maduro is pressing Colombia and the US to extradite opposition figures he alleges are plotting to topple him from abroad, including Borges.
The embattled president says he was targeted by two drones carrying C4 explosives.
Live images on Saturday showed Maduro halting his speech at a Caracas military parade following a detonation that prompted dozens of soldiers in front of him to run away in panic.
Borges, who on Tuesday attended the swearing-in of Colombia’s new president, Ivan Duque, called Maduro’s accusation against him “a farce.”
“Everyone knows that it’s a set-up to persecute and convict anybody that opposes your dictatorship,” Borges wrote on Twitter.
Later, he told AFP that he feels “safe” in exile.
“I feel safe in Colombia, I feel thankful. The move has no political or legal grounds,” he said of the decision to strip his immunity.
– Intensifying ‘repression’ –
Saab said Wednesday that three of seven suspects arrested in the wake of the incident had appeared before a judge.
Maduro has used his control of the Supreme Court, electoral authorities and security forces to concentrate power in his hands.
The Eurasia Group, a risk consultancy, said that following the drone incident, “the immediate impact will be for Maduro to intensify repression against his opponents and close ranks.”
It added that, while there was no imminent fall predicted for Maduro, “holding onto power will become increasingly challenging in the long term, particularly if he fails to provide guarantees and privileges to key stakeholders amid deteriorating economic conditions, and while social dynamics remain fragile.”
After Maduro established the all-powerful Constituent Assembly last year, four months of violent protests and a security crackdown flared, leaving 125 people dead.
Venezuela’s diplomatic isolation also deepened, with most countries in the Americas slamming Maduro as undemocratic and increasingly dictatorial.
The political turmoil has worsened Venezuela’s ability to respond to its economic collapse.
The country, once one of the wealthiest in Latin America, is on the brink of total default as exports of oil — the resource it depends upon — decline and with them the hard currency Maduro’s government needs.
Venezuela is in the grip of staggering hyperinflation, shortages of food and medicine, and is seeing an exodus of hundreds of thousands of its citizens, creating a regional humanitarian emergency.
On Wednesday, Ecuador declared a state of migration emergency as 4,200 Venezuelans cross its northern border with Colombia each day.
Meanwhile, US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said on a visit to Colombia to inspect the border with Venezuela that it was time that countries in the region affected by the migration flow “condemn Maduro and tell him it is time he goes.”
The United States has leveled sanctions on Maduro and his officials, including ones that make it difficult for Venezuela to raise foreign credit.
Haley said the US was adding another $9 million to $60 million in aid already allotted to Colombia to help it cope with the 820,000 Venezuelan migrants it is hosting.