CARACAS – Venezuela’s Supreme Court issued on Wednesday a ruling that grants the nation’s ombudsman the authority to launch investigations and gives that official access to probes being conducted by the Attorney General’s Office.
The ruling also allows the ombudsman to request forensic testing and autopsies, among other powers vested in the attorney general.
The ombudsman’s office “is authorized to launch an investigation, as well as to have access to related judicial and administrative proceedings.”
Furthermore, that office may “request that subsidiary judicial organs (authorize) investigative measures such as expert testing, planimetric surveys, crime-scene reconstruction, autopsies, etc,” the ruling said.
That decision comes as embattled leftist President Nicolas Maduro has questioned the actions of Attorney General Luisa Ortega, who has broken ranks with the administration in recent months and legally challenged some ruling-party measures, including plans for a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution.
Ortega, for her part, has questioned official versions about violence during anti-government demonstrations and criticized the use of military courts to try protesters, saying her office alone can launch criminal proceedings.
Maduro on Tuesday said that supporters of Chavism – the country’s socialist political and economic model – will “take up arms” to do what could not be achieved “with votes” if the country descends into violence and the Bolivarian revolution were in danger of being overturned.
“If Venezuela were to sink into chaos and violence and the Bolivarian revolution were to be destroyed, we would go to war. We’ll never surrender and what could not be done with votes we would do with arms, we would liberate our homeland with arms,” said the president during a political event in Caracas.
Maduro called on the world to listen to his warning, which was contained in an obligatory radio and television broadcast after three months of anti-government protests that have led to at least 75 deaths, saying that this is “the only option for peace that Venezuela has.”
The Supreme Court, which is filled with Maduro loyalists, last year stripped the opposition-controlled unicameral legislature of its budgetary authority, saying it was in contempt for seating lawmakers accused of electoral fraud.
That October 2016 move by the high court came in the wake of the opposition’s landslide victory in the December 2015 parliamentary elections.
Those elections marked a major turning point in Venezuelan politics, which have been dominated for nearly 20 years by Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez.
Already strained political tensions in Venezuela threatened to sky-rocket on Wednesday a day after the nation’s Supreme Court and Interior Ministry offices were attacked with grenades and gunfire from a helicopter allegedly stolen by a mutinous police officer.
Venezuela’s government came out on Tuesday evening to denounce what it claimed was a terror attack and linked the alleged assailant, Oscar Perez – an officer with the air transport division of the country’s national police agency (CICPC) – to the United States Central Intelligence Agency.