Maduro replaces military chiefs after shooting at demonstrators; Venezuela attorney faces charges after defying government
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro fired four top military commanders Tuesday after images of soldiers shooting on anti-government demonstrators in Caracas a day earlier provoked a massive outcry across the country.
The commander of the National Guard military police, General Antonio Benavides Torres, was moved on to "new responsibilities and battles," Maduro told supporters in a speech. The heads of the army, navy and the central strategic command body were also replaced.
Maduro said he was confirming the overall head of the armed forces, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez, in his post, calling him "a loyal, moral man." The president added that he was ordering 20,000 new police and a similar number of new National Guards to be recruited.
An initial probe of Monday’s shootings during an anti-government demonstration indicated “misuse and disproportionate use of force,” Interior Minister Nestor Reverol wrote on Twitter late Monday, adding that the investigation was still underway. His comments represent a rare display of official condemnation.
Military affairs analyst Rocio San Miguel said that the rebuke by Reverol was an effort at controlling damage for an increasingly discredited armed forces. The abuses “were so evident that he is looking to maintain the bare minimum sense of law.”
The government-controlled Supreme Court cleared the way for a trial against Luisa Ortega, the country's chief prosecutor, for allegedly committing "grave errors" in her role as the nation's top law enforcement official. Ortega has become a surprise hero to the opposition after breaking ranks with the government of President Nicolas Maduro over his efforts to concentrate power.
Opponents of Maduro say Ortega is being targeted for her decision to break with the government over its plans to gut the opposition-controlled National Assembly and attempt to rewrite the constitution. In the past few weeks, as Ortega has pursued a number of legal actions seeking to block Maduro's power grab, government supporters have mounted a campaign to discredit her actions, alternately accusing her of being crazy or a spokeswoman for "right-wing terrorists."
Ortega remained defiant in the face of the high court's move, saying the ruling was an attack not against her but the very foundations of the Venezuela's democracy. "Hanging over the country is a bleak outlook that could destroy the state," she told Union Radio.
Ortega, whose agency is semi-autonomous, has emerged as one of the most critical voices of Maduro within the government. Under the current constitution, which Maduro now wants to scuttle, she can only be removed by the National Assembly.