Venezuela strips opposition leader Juan Guaido of immunity

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido was stripped of immunity by the country's Constituent Assembly on April 2. PHOTO: REUTERS

CARACAS (NYTIMES, BLOOMBERG) - A pro-government lawmaking body installed by President Nicolas Maduro voted on Tuesday (April 2) to strip the opposition leader Juan Guaido of parliamentary immunity, paving the way for his potential arrest.

"Let's give justice time; justice has its time, its moments, its courts," Mr Diosdado Cabello, president of the Constituent Assembly, said after the vote. "Sooner rather than later, the perverse, murderous, terrorist right wing will have to pay before the Constitution and the law for all the evils committed against our people."

The move by the Constituent Assembly represents the government's latest effort to raise the pressure on Mr Guaido, who declared himself interim president in January in the biggest challenge that Mr Maduro has faced in six years in office.

In recent weeks, the government has barred Mr Guaido from travelling, frozen his bank accounts, begun investigating him on terrorism accusations, and prohibited him from running for office.

But thus far the government has stopped short of detaining Mr Guaido, who's recognised by the United States and some 50 other nations as Venezuela's legitimate head of state. The United States has repeatedly said that any attack on Mr Guaido would draw a severe reaction.

Mr Guaido has brushed off legal challenges from the government in the past, going so far as touring South American capitals despite the travel ban.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Guaido told reporters that he has no plans to end street demonstrations and that recent rulings amounted to little more than threats by a government that had long trampled on the rule of law.

"We're going to call things by their name: It's political persecution in Venezuela, harassment and state terrorism."

The opposition does not recognise the Constituent Assembly, a sort of parallel congress created by Mr Maduro two years ago as a means of circumventing the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

"The regime believes that by attacking me, they will stop us," Mr Guaido told supporters outside his house on Tuesday night. "There's no way back in this process."

The authorities opened a probe in January after the 35-year-old lawmaker invoked Venezuela's charter to launch an interim government and kicked off a wave of national protests after Mr Maduro began another six-year term following 2018 elections that were widely regarded as rigged.

The Maduro regime's actions on Tuesday represent just the most recent challenge to US President Donald Trump. The US has stepped up sanctions on Venezuela and the regime's officials.

Last month, Venezuelan intelligence police raided the home of Mr Guaido's chief of staff in the middle of the night, accusing him of leading a "terrorist cell".

Mr Guaido's team says the charges are bogus and that Mr Maduro's allies are looking to scapegoat a burgeoning protest movement after years of corruption and mismanagement.

The oil-rich nation is reeling from hyperinflation, hunger and rolling blackouts that make daily life miserable for residents in backwater towns and major cities alike. On Tuesday, the government announced that it would introduce national power rationing in peak hours until further notice.

Mr Maduro, however, insists, that the country's woes are not the result of poor governance but sabotage orchestrated by his opponents at home and abroad.

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