Venezuela crisis grows as Maduro begins purge of judges

Nicolas Maduro, seen here in 2015, used his own TV show to warn of further reprisals

Nicolas Maduro, seen here in 2015, used his own TV show to warn of further reprisals

Monday, July 24, 2017

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has begun a purge of 33 judges nominated by the country's parliament, widening the rift between the leader and his legislative chamber.

Maduro began arresting the judges just a day after they were nominated by the National Assembly, which is controlled by the main opposition party, according to news site ABC.

The purge began on Saturday evening when officials from the intelligence services arrested Angel Zerpa, a long-standing judge who previously worked for the country's Attorney General, Luisa Ortega - one of the foremost critics of Maduro and the 'chavismo' creed he purports to uphold.

Maduro has warned that this won't be the final detention, vowing on his own television show that these "usurpers" will be imprisoned "one by one, one after the other."

Those arrested, he said, will "have their assets frozen, their accounts and everything, and no-one is going to defend them."

On Friday, the National Assembly nominated 13 senior judges and 20 deputies to the Supreme Court. They were designed to supplant a group of judges nominated in 2015, when the assembly was controlled by Maduro's supporters.

Announcing the raft of new appointees, the National Assembly said that the previous incumbents where chosen through a "corrupt and pressured" process. However almost immediately the decision was declared null and void by the Supreme Court itself, which declared the new judges guilty of "usurpation of functions."

On Sunday Venezuela's public ministry pleaded for the release of Zerpa, and asked that the intelligence service, known by its acronym as Sebin, reveal where he is being held as no-one knew of his whereabouts.

Maduro has been locked in dispute with his parliament since early April, when the Supreme Court moved to restrict the power of the legislature.

The decision was reversed almost immediately, but this did not stop supporters of the opposition party taking to the streets in protest and demanding the removal of the Supreme Court members.

The protests have continued almost unabated since then, with almost 100 people dying, and the country has been further blighted by chronic food shortages.

British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was among Venezuela's fiercest international advocates during the reign of Maduro's predecessor, Hugo Chavez. However Corbyn has spoken out far less frequently about Venezuela since Chavez's death in 2013.