Venezuelans have been thrust into a new round of political turbulence after the Supreme Court gutted congress of its last vestiges of power, drawing widespread condemnation from foreign governments and sparking calls for protests, the AP reports. Governments across Latin America on Thursday condemned the power grab, with the head of the Organization of American States likening it to a "self-inflicted coup" by socialist President Nicolas Maduro against the opposition-controlled congress. In a surprise decision, the magistrates ruled late Wednesday that as long as lawmakers remain in contempt of past rulings, the high court, or an institution it designates, can assume the constitutionally assigned powers of the National Assembly, which has been controlled by the opposition for nearly a year and a half.
The ruling and one earlier in the week limiting lawmakers' immunity from prosecution capped a feud that began when the long-marginalized opposition won control of the legislature by a landslide in December 2015 and then mounted a campaign to force Maduro from office. The leftist leader, who has seen his approval ratings plunge amid widespread food shortages and triple-digit inflation, responded by relying on the Supreme Court to unseat several lawmakers and then routinely nullify all legislation voted there. Peru's government immediately recalled its ambassador in protest of what it called "a flagrant break in the democratic order." Chile's left-of-center president, who has been reluctant to openly criticize Maduro, said she was deeply worried by the ruling and ordered her ambassador to return home for consultations.