Dec 10, 2015 5:32 PM
Sleepy days over for Venezuela congress
The Associated Press
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) Venezuela's socialist lawmakers vowed Thursday to pass laws and make appointments until the last possible minute to protect their revolution before the opposition takes over congress next month on promises to revive an institution they say has been subservient to the presidency.
At the first session since the opposition won a landslide victory in Sunday's legislative election, lawmakers heard performances of patriotic songs and promised to never cooperate with the "bourgeoisie" leaders who will take control of the legislature Jan. 5. The election has created a divided government for the first time since the late President Hugo Chavez launched his socialist government here in 1998.
"We will never change our position, no matter what kind of blackmail or manipulation they throw our way," outgoing National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello said. "We will be here until midnight on January 4.
The refusal to negotiate probably won't matter, given the opposition's two-third majority. Even the government workers in socialist red T-shirts patrolling the palm-tree-lined National Assembly compound say the body will be unrecognizable come next year.
"It's going to be more work, less singing," said Jimmy Toval, who has handled logistics in the legislature for 15 years. "The new guys are coming in to write laws."
During 15 years of socialist control, Venezuela's congress has met infrequently to rubber-stamp the president's agenda, reducing its schedule to just one day a week. The public is not allowed in at all and reporters are corralled into a room far from the floor where they watch proceedings on a television with an inconsistent signal.
That televised view drew derision in 2013 when the camera averted its gaze from a fight on the assembly floor that sent high-profile opposition leader Maria Corina Machado to the hospital. It broadcast a shot of the ceiling instead.
Last month, lawmakers approved the president's budget proposal with minimal debate, as they have for years. At other times, they have danced around the chamber to drums and held sing-alongs.
The detailed accountability reports and economic figures the body is supposed to receive annually have morphed into documents that read more like celebratory press releases or that have stopped coming in altogether.
While lawmakers have sometimes promised to investigate major scandals, like a 2013 prison riot in which dozens of inmates were shot to death, they rarely present conclusions.
On Thursday, lawmakers gave a promotion to the judge who earlier this year convicted opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez to more than a decade in prison for his role leading anti-government street protests in 2014. Human rights groups consider Lopez the region's highest-profile political prisoner, and the opposition has vowed to pass a law that would free him.
The legislature is expected to appoint a series of Supreme Court judges next week who would in theory be able to nullify the opposition's laws by finding them unconstitutional. Human Rights Watch has called this plan undemocratic.
If the Supreme Court began overturning laws, the opposition would likely try to impeach those judges or pack the court with their own picks.
Government critics, who have had so little access to national media that they have relied on a YouTube channel to get their announcements out, have been eagerly outlining their plans to use the National Assembly's national television channel. They also insist they'll demand far more economic data from state intuitions.
Newly elected congressman Henry Ramos Allup, who leads the large opposition party Democratic Action, said any last-minute attempts to neuter the legislature will be undone as soon as the new lawmakers are seated. The opposition will have the power to remove Supreme Court justices it finds guilty of misconduct.
"These are acts of anger that are null and void," he told the television station Globovision. "Whatever they do, it's reversible."
Hannah Dreier is on Twitter: https://twitter.com/hannahdreier. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/hannah-dreier.