Supreme Tribunal of Justice bars chief prosecutor from leaving Venezuela; U.S. ambassador to the U.N. warns of stronger crackdown on protests
Venezuela's Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) barred the nation's chief prosecutor from leaving the country and ordered her bank accounts frozen hours after she delivered a scathing critique accusing President Nicolas Maduro of "state terrorism."
The government-stacked court announced Wednesday evening that it was proceeding with a complaint filed by a socialist party lawmaker accusing Luisa Ortega Diaz of acting as a de facto opposition leader in violation of her constitutional duties.
The development came as authorities pressed a nationwide manhunt for a police investigator accused of stealing a police helicopter and sending grenades and gunfire at the TSJ court and Interior Ministry on Tuesday night. Officials found the helicopter abandoned on the coast in Vargas state near Caracas but there was no sign of the fugitive, Oscar Perez.
As the drama was unfolding outside the court, inside magistrates were issuing a number of rulings against Ortega. One of such rulings broadened the powers of government-loyalist ombudsman Tarek William Saab, allowing him to carry out criminal investigations that are the exclusive prerogative of Ortega, who has recently become a strong Maduro critic.
"These rulings are giving the power to investigate human rights abuses to people who possibly are violating those rights," Ortega said Wednesday in her strongest remarks since breaking with Maduro over a TSJ ruling in March that sought to strip the legislature of its last powers.
Hours after her comments, the high court announced it was proceeding with a complaint filed by lawmaker Pedro Carreño and putting restrictions on Ortega Diaz's movements in order to proceed with a hearing scheduled for next week. "I don't recognize these decisions," Ortega Diaz said to loud applause from aides. "I promise you I will defend Venezuela's constitution and democracy even if it costs me my life."
In other news, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations warned lawmakers on Capitol Hill about Venezuela's worsening crisis and the risk that Maduro could lead a more aggressive crackdown on protests.
Nikki Haley affirmed that Maduro "is saying he is going to use military action." In her words, "He is very much saying that he is going to get more aggressive and he is blaming the protesters for trying to overthrow his government when all they want is true democracy." She made the comments Wednesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.