CARACAS – Former Venezuelan foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez, who was chosen to preside over the National Constituent Assembly, a controversial body expected to rewrite the Caribbean nation’s 1998 constitution and reorganize the country’s government, scheduled its first session for Saturday.
Delcy Rodriguez gave the order for all public institutions to be notified of the swearing-in of the assembly’s 554 members, who were elected last weekend in a process boycotted by the opposition.
“Don’t think we’re going to wait weeks, months, years. No. Starting tomorrow, this National Constituent Assembly will begin functioning,” she said on Friday inside the Elliptical Hall of Venezuela’s legislative palace, adding that “those who wage psychological warfare on the people will be brought to justice.”
“We’ve come here not to destroy our constitution. No. We’ve come to clear away all the obstacles, all the dictatorial arbitrariness that has prevented us from exercising the substantive validity of our constitution,” she said.
Rodriguez praised President Nicolas Maduro for handing power to the people via the assembly, which she said had “shattered the darkest phase of the dictatorship, a right-wing (force) that was seeking to prevent Venezuelans from exercising ... our right to vote, right to free transit, the right to work, health, life.”
Those remarks were in reference to months of sometimes violent anti-government protests that have left 121 dead, nearly 2,000 injured and 5,000 arrested.
On Friday, a few dozen Venezuelans – far fewer than have turned out on other occasions – held a march to express their rejection of the Constituent Assembly.
Venezuela’s opposition appeared to score a major victory over Chavismo – the leftist political movement that is named after late President Hugo Chavez, who ruled from 1999 until his death in 2013, and is now led by Maduro – when it won a clear majority in the unicameral National Assembly in December 2015.
That body has been stymied from exercising its power due to rulings by Venezuela’s Supreme Court, but on Friday National Assembly Vice President Freddy Guevara said it would remain in session and that the government would have to use force and show its most repressive side to remove lawmakers from the chamber.
Although the Constituent Assembly is made up exclusively of supporters of Maduro’s leftist government, Rodriguez said there would be no “exclusion,” a complaint she said was being leveled by the “unpatriotic right.”
She also accused the opposition of spreading lies about the extent of the economic woes in Venezuela, which is mired in a deep recession.
“In Venezuela, there’s no hunger. In Venezuela, there’s willpower ... here, there’s no humanitarian crisis; here, there’s love.”
Rodriguez said the new constitution would be written by ordinary people as opposed to “experts,” adding that the assembly was born “of a profound historical conflict, of a minority group that intends to take over the country, a minority group that intends to restore neoliberalism no matter the cost.”
Maduro and other top ruling-party officials have said the new assembly will work to strip lawmakers of their parliamentary immunity and take over the Attorney General’s Office.
AG Luisa Ortega Diaz, who was previously loyal to Maduro but has become a harsh critic in recent months, has warned of what she says is a totalitarian plan to reorder the country’s justice system.
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