CARACAS, April 2 (NNN-AGENCIES) — Venezuela’s Supreme Court called for Juan Guaido to be stripped of his legislative immunity, tightening the noose on the opposition leader just days after authorities announced a ban on him holding public office.
Guaido — recognized as Venezuela’s interim president by some 50 countries — is locked in a power struggle with President Nicolas Maduro that has drawn in neighboring states as well as superpowers such as the US and Russia.
As the political battle plays out, the country has been hit by a series of devastating blackouts that have left millions without water, prompting the government to replace the country’s energy minister and institute power rationing in a bid to address the outages.
The decision by the Supreme Court — which is controlled by Maduro loyalists — to call on the ruling Constituent Assembly legislature to strip Guaido of his immunity could open the way for the opposition chief to be prosecuted.
The court ruling cited Guaido’s violation of a ban on his travel outside Venezuela when he visited Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Paraguay from late February to early March.
The move came after Venezuela’s auditor general’s office announced Thursday that it had stripped Guaido of the right to hold public office for 15 years, a decision he rejected as invalid.
Three major blackouts hit Venezuela in March, worsening already dire living and economic conditions in the country, and prompting authorities to take steps aimed at curbing the outages.
Maduro — whose government has blamed “terrorists” for alleged attacks that have damaged the country’s main hydroelectric power plant — announced that Igor Gavidia Leon to replace retired general Luis Motta Dominguez as energy minister.
The new minister “is an electrical industry worker with 25 years of experience, an engineer who had many responsibilities,” Maduro said.
On Sunday, Maduro announced 30 days of electricity rationing, after his government said it was shortening the workday and keeping schools closed due to blackouts.
With no electricity, pumping stations can’t work, so water service is limited.
Street lights and traffic lights go dark, pumps at fuel stations stand idle, and cell phone and internet service is non-existent.
Crippled infrastructure little investment in the power grid and poor maintenance have all contributed to the country’s electricity woes.
A “brain drain” of qualified personnel has also hit the industry, with about 25,000 people in the electricity sector among the 2.7 million Venezuelans who have emigrated since 2015.
Guaido has asked his supporters to protest each time there is a blackout. — NNN-AGENCIES