Venezuela's new all-powerful legislative body gets to work

545 new delegates take office despite suspicions of electoral fraud

CARACAS, Venezuela – In a sign of its lack of political diversity, the 545 delegates of Venezuela's new legislative body voted unanimously Friday to elect Delcy Rodriguez, a loyal supporter of President Nicolas Maduro, as their leader.  

Rodriguez, a former foreign minister, solidified the concerns about the legislative body turning into Maduro's latest political weapon. Maduro’s wife and son are among the delegates. 

"Do not think we’re going to wait weeks, months or years," Rodriguez said during her first speech. "Tomorrow we start to act. The violent fascists, those who wage economic war on the people, those who wage psychological war: Justice is coming for you!"

Maduro has already warned that when the new all-powerful legislative body rewrites the constitution, it will make sure that the lawmakers who oppose him will not have the constitutional immunity from prosecution.

Oscar Schemer and Iris Varela, new assembly members, said the people of Venezuela want justice and they are going to make sure that they get it. The delegates will also take aim at Luisa Ortega Diaz, the chief prosecutor who was loyal to Hugo Chavez but has parted ways with Maduro. 

Ortega Diaz, who the Supreme Court accused of misconduct, ordered an investigation of possible fraud during the Sunday election of the delegates and was seeking a court order to block their installation. Maduro's socialist party also controls the country's judiciary. The delegates will meet again Saturday.

"You know where it's going. It's another Cuba right on our door step," Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida said during a meeting Friday at Miami-Dade College. 

Smartmatic, the company supplying the voting machines, reported voter manipulation during a Thursday press conference in London after the election results were announced. The Vatican released a statement asking Maduro to suspend the process and expressed "deep worry for the radicalization and worsening" crisis.

The U.S. State Department released a statement Thursday saying the new legislative body was illegitimate. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wants Maduro out of office. President Donald Trump continued President Barack Obama's policy of issuing individual sanctions. Nelson says Trump needs to ban Venezuelan oil. 

"I think the president's sanctioning was a good step and the previous sanctions I think are a good step. Why? Oh, they all love to come to Miami, and they love to stash cash in secret bank accounts in the safety of the Americas," Nelson said. 

Dr. Rafael D. Gottenger, a Venezuelan plastic surgeon who has an office in South Miami, was at the meeting with Nelson. He brought pictures of children at a Caracas hospital who he says have died of malnutrition due to food and medicine shortages. 

Maduro blames the Venezuelan Democrats who control congress and President Donald Trump's administration for organizing and instigating the violent protests to oust him. He promoted the legislative body as a response to nearly four months of protests organized by his opponents. 

Venezuelan Democrats blame Maduro for implementing socialist policies that were doomed to fail and for pushing to implement a Cuba-style dictatorship. They also blame him for encouraging a brutal repression involving the military, the law enforcement community and groups of armed civilians known as "colectivos."

The protest have been linked to at least 120 deaths and hundreds of prisoners. Antonio Ledezma, the former Caracas mayor hauled out of his home during a secret early morning raid Tuesday, returned to house arrest Friday. He has been critical of Maduro, was arrested in 2015 and has encouraged protests against the new legislative body. 

Local 10 News' Andrea Torres contributed from Miami.


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