Venezuela bars attorney general from leaving country

Posted at 3:36 PM, Jun 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-29 15:36:09-04

Venezuela’s Supreme Court has banned Attorney General Luisa Ortega from leaving the country, and has frozen her assets, ahead of a pre-trial hearing scheduled for July 4.

The inquiry, which was requested by an ally of President Nicolas Maduro, will seek to determine if Ortega committed unspecified “grave errors while in her position.”

If enough evidence is found, Ortega, a vocal critic of Maduro’s government, could be taken to trial.

It’s the latest twist in the political turmoil gripping the country, and follows an audacious attack on the Supreme Court in Caracas Wednesday when grenades and gunfire were launched from a police helicopter.

That helicopter was found Wednesday in a rural part of the country, but the man authorities say piloted the aircraft — Oscar Perez — is still on the run.

‘State terrorism’

Ortega has recently accused Maduro’s government of “state terrorism” by stripping citizens of their right to protest, trying them in military courts and carrying out raids without consulting courts.

“We continue to witness the rupture of the constitutional order. The constitution keeps on being violated and the government institutions are being dismantled,” she said.

Pedro Carreño, the lawmaker who requested the pre-trial hearing, has told reporters that he believe Ortega is not in her right mind and will convene a medical board to assess the attorney general’s recent behavior.

“It is evident that this lady is not in her right mind, It is clear that this lady is not normal,” Carreño said.

Helicopter attack

The helicopter involved in the Supreme Court attack was allegedly piloted by Oscar Perez, an officer in the country’s investigative police force.

Before the attack began, a man who identified himself as Perez appeared in a video online saying an operation was underway to seize democracy back from Venezuela’s “criminal government.”

Flanked by a group of armed men in military fatigues and balaclavas, Perez claimed to be speaking on behalf of a coalition of military, police officers and civil officials.

As it strafed the court building and the Interior Ministry in Caracas on Tuesday, attackers fired gunshots and lobbed grenades, officials said. It was unclear how a rogue police helicopter could have circled high-profile buildings in the Venezuelan capital without being shot down. Witnesses and local journalists said the assault went on for about two hours.

No one was injured, but the assault was a dramatic escalation of the months-long crisis engulfing the regime of President Maduro, who called the attack an attempted coup.

None of those involved in the attack appear to have been tracked down. Venezuela has asked Interpol to issue a red notice for Perez, according to Néstor Luis Reverol, the county’s minister of interior, justice and peace. A red notice alerts authorities in other countries, including border officials, that someone is wanted.

The helicopter was later located in the seaside state of Vargas, Venezuelan state news agency AVN reported. Photos published on the verified Twitter feed for Venezuela’s Vice President Tareck El Aissami‏ show the helicopter in a clearing.

The government intimidates and restricts the media in Venezuela, taking CNN en Español off the air. The government tightly controls visas for foreign journalists including CNN, arresting those who report from inside the country without proper permits.

Months of chaos

Venezuela is in the throes of a political and humanitarian crisis which has brought thousands of people onto the streets in mass protests demanding a change of government.

Soaring inflation and widespread shortages of medicines, food and other essentials have infuriated many people, who are struggling to afford even basic necessities.

Under former President Hugo Chavez, who was Maduro’s mentor, oil revenue fueled Venezuela’s economy. However, falling oil prices have made state subsidies unsustainable.

Anti-government protesters want Maduro to step down, accusing him of eroding democracy. Maduro, meanwhile, has sent the Venezuelan military onto the streets to maintain order, leading to deadly clashes. According to numbers released by the attorney general’s office, at least 80 civilians have died in the unrest, including the point-blank shooting of a 22-year-old protester by a soldier.

Two deaths Wednesday are also being investigated.