Merseyside, UK, August 7 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Human rights activist Tarek William Saab was sworn in as Venezuela’s new Attorney General Saturday, after the country’s former chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega was controversially dismissed by the country’s newly elected National Constituent Assembly [ANC].
The incoming Attorney General said that his team would make an “extraordinary effort to rescue the credibility of the public prosecution and place it at the service of the people” on Twitter. The pledge was a reference to Ortega, who is currently facing an impeachment trial for alleged “grave misconduct”.
Saab was acting as Venezuela’s National Ombudsman at the time of his nomination and will now be replaced by longtime human rights advocate Alfredo Ruiz.
Ortega’s removal as Attorney General comes after she publicly broke with the leftist administration of Nicolas Maduro in early April over a Supreme Court decision to temporarily curtail the powers of the interdicted National Assembly. She later strongly opposed the presidential convening of the ANC to rewrite the country’s Constitution, which she condemned as a power-grab by the Maduro administration.
But Ortega has also been accused by government supporters of acting in the interests of the country’s rightwing opposition since she jumped ship in the long-running political stand-off, as well as of ignoring opposition political violence amidst a wave of anti-government protests which have claimed more than 120 lives since April.
“The inaction of the public prosecution, which allowed a figure of approximately 100 victims to be registered in Venezuela, due to a lack of justice, due to not acting in time, due to allowing violent groups to gain control of territory, which now must be liberated in the interests of civil peace,” commented Saab, who vowed to fight impunity in his new role.
The proposal to the ANC to remove Ortega was made by Chavista veteran and National Assembly legislator Diosdado Cabello, who was elected to the ANC in national elections on July 30 amidst opposition attacks on voting centers. Cabello’s proposal was passed unanimously by the remaining 544 delegates. He said the dismissal was not a political “lynching” but rather an “act of justice”.
As context for the move, assembly delegates cited a Supreme Court decision in June which ruled that Ortega should face an impeachment trial for alleged grave misconduct and which could eventually lead to criminal charges.
In particular, Ortega is accused of having lied to the public in relation to the nomination of several Supreme Court judges in 2015 in order to undermine the Maduro administration and create a crisis of legitimacy amongst Venezuela’s branches of government. The former Attorney General originally claimed that she had not signed off on the magistrates’ nomination as required under Venezuelan law, though this was later called into question by official documents as well as testimonies by Saab and other officials involved in the nominating process. Ortega skipped out on her summons to appear before the top court, due to take place on July 4.
“The attitude of the Attorney didn’t really give certainty or security. She didn’t give the impression of being objective in her duties,” former Attorney General and now second vice-president of the ANC Isaías Rodríguez told the press on Saturday.
“The Public Prosecution has the power of penal action. That means, practically, that the mobilization of all penal trials in the country depend on the Public Prosecution. Given that reality, it was necessary to take a decision,” he continued.
In comments to the press following her dismissal, Ortega hit back at the assembly’s decision as a “coup” against the country’s democracy and the 1999 Constitution, stating that she still remains the legitimate Attorney General. She also participated in the Forum in Defense of the Constitution at the elite Andres Bello Catholic University [UCAB] in Caracas on Sunday, alongside several prominent members of the opposition. The former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski and current opposition president of the National Assembly Julio Borges participated in the event, alongside voices of so-called “dissident Chavismo” such as former Chavez ally Miguel Rodriguez Torres.
The move to dismiss Ortega has been criticized by the governments of the United States and France, and was followed up by the indefinite suspension of Venezuela from the regional trading bloc Mercosur [Common Market of the South). Venezuela was also temporarily suspended from the organisation in December of last year for allegedly failing to comply with Mercosur rules and regulations for member states.
The government responded on Sunday, describing the latest suspension as “inadmissible” and “interventionist,” while the government of Bolivia and the Brazilian Workers’ Party also voiced their opposition to the move.
Saturday was the first time that the ANC had officially held session since the delegates were elected on July 30. Assembly spokespeople also voted to extend the time that the ANC would operate from six months to a maximum of two years.