Miraflores Palace via Reuters
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a meeting with members of the Constituent Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela August 2, 2017.
South American trade bloc Mercosur suspended Venezuela indefinitely on Saturday, adding to
international pressure on President Nicolas Maduro to dismantle a newly created legislative superbody and restore democracy.
Foreign ministers of Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil announced the decision in Sao Paulo, urging Maduro to release prisoners and immediately start a political transition.
“We are saying: Stop with this! Enough with the deaths, enough with the repression. It is not possible to inflict such torture to the people,” Brazilian Foreign Minister Aloysio Ferreira said after the meeting.
Mercosur made its move just as Venezuela’s chief prosecutor was fired on Saturday, and ordered to stand trial. That occurred less than 24 hours after the new legislature was installed with sweeping powers to strengthen Maduro’s grip on power.
The prosecutor, Luisa Ortega, had become Maduro’s main challenger from within the ruling socialist movement since the opposition started a round of protests in April. The street marches have left more than 120 people dead as rock-throwing protesters were met by rubber bullets, water cannon and tear gas.
She accused him of human rights abuses and of exaggerating the turnout in last weekend’s election of the new 545-member constituent assembly. The opposition, in control of the country’s traditional congress, boycotted the vote. This guaranteed that all candidates for the new body would be Maduro allies.
Mercosur has no provision for expulsion. It had suspended Venezuela temporarily in December for not complying with the bloc’s regulations, and toughened its stance following the controversial election of a constituent assembly on Sunday and the arrest of several opposition leaders.
Countries around the world have condemned the vote, calling it a bid to extend Maduro’s rule indefinitely.
Although Venezuela sits on the world’s largest-known oil reserves, millions are suffering food shortages and soaring inflation. Months of anti-government unrest have killed more than 120 people.