Nicolas Maduro Doesn’t Really Control Venezuela

Article pubished in The Atlantic by Moisés Naím

It’s hard to pick the Venezuelan president’s greatest flaw. Which is more serious: his cruel indifference to the suffering of his people, or his brutal autocratic behavior? Which is more outrageous: his immense ignorance or the fact that he dances on television while his henchmen murder defenseless young protesters in the streets? The list of Nicolas Maduro’s failings is long, and Venezuelans know it; over 80 percent of them oppose him. And it’s not just Venezuelans. The rest of the world has also discovered—at last!—his despotic, corrupt, and inept character.

And yet … Maduro doesn’t really matter. He is simply a useful idiot, the puppet of those who really control Venezuela: the Cubans, the drug traffickers, and Hugo Chavez’s political heirs. Those three groups effectively function as criminal cartels, and have co-opted the armed forces into their service; this is how it is possible that every day we see men in uniform willing to massacre their own people in order to keep Venezuela’s criminal oligarchy in power.

When Nicolas Maduro Was Dictator for a Day

The most important component of this oligarchy is the Cuban regime. Three years ago I wrote: “Venezuelan aid is indispensable to prevent the Cuban economy from collapsing. Having a government in Caracas that maintains such aid is a vital objective of the Cuban State. And Cuba has accumulated decades of experience, knowledge, and contacts that allow it to operate internationally with great efficacy and, when necessary, in a way that is almost invisible.” Havana’s priority remains controlling and plundering Venezuela. The supply of oil from Venezuela to Cuba is no longer as steady as it once was, due to the production troubles of the state-run oil company PDVSA. But the flows, while intermittent, have continued. Moreover, Cuban companies are the intermediaries of choice for many critical imports of foods and medicines to Venezuela.

And Cuba’s leaders know how to keep their Venezuelan allies in power—namely by exporting their own successful military-control strategies to Venezuela. Cubans have perfected the techniques of the police state at home: constant but selective repression, extortion and bribery, espionage, and persecution. Above all, the Cuban regime knows how to protect itself from a military coup: That is the main threat to any dictatorship, so controlling the armed forces is an indispensable requirement for a self-respecting dictator.

The Venezuelan regime has adopted these tactics. The effects are obvious: Officers who do not sympathize with the Maduro regime have been neutralized, while those who support it have gotten rich. It is no coincidence that there are more generals in Venezuela today than in NATO or the United States. Or that many high-ranking officials are exiled, imprisoned, or killed. That is why the hope that a group of patriotic, democratic, and honest officers will defend the nation, and not those who plunder it, has so far been only a hope.

But, in addition, Cuba—in stumbling across Venezuela—happened upon one of the most unprecedented gifts in the annals of geopolitics: Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez, the president of a petro state who happily invited a bankrupt dictatorship to exert enormous influence in some of his country’s vital functions, from elections, economic policy, and politics to, of course, military and citizen surveillance. Cuban “advisers” were deployed at critical government agencies and soon started vetoing the decisions of the Venezuelan officials and in some instances imposing their views. The Venezuelans who resisted them were transferred or fired. The surprising influence that Cuba gained in Venezuela was essentially due to the close political alliance and deep emotional attachment that Chavez developed toward Fidel Castro. But even today, more than four years after Chavez’s death, the Venezuelan government makes few important decisions that are not stealthily influenced by the Cuban regime.

Another important player in today’s Venezuela is the drug traffickers, whose power is also a constraint on Maduro. Venezuela is one of the main drug routes to the U.S. and Europe. This status is worth billions of dollars, and the country is home to a vast network of people and organizations that control the illicit trade and the enormous amount of money it generates. According to U.S. officials, one such person is Vice President Tareck El Aissami, and so are a large number of military officers and other relatives and members of the ruling oligarchy.

This oligarchy, made up of Chavez’s political heirs, is the third major component of the real power in Venezuela. Of course, Maduro; his wife, Cilia Flores; and many of his relatives and associates are part of that oligarchy. In this elite there are different “families,” “cartels,” and groups that compete for influence on government decisions, for political appointments, and for the control of illicit markets—ranging from human trafficking to money laundering. The smuggling and selling of food, medicines, and all kinds of products are just a few of the many other corrupt activities that enrich the Maduro oligarchy as well as the Cubans, the military, and their civilian accomplices.

Getting rid of Maduro is necessary. But it’s not enough as long as three criminal cartels—who are intermingled in business, corruption, and the exercise of power—continue to control Venezuela.

View article at The Atlantic

After Maduro’s secret trip to Cuba, opposition leaders want to know: ‘Why did he go?’

The Miami Herald

The unannounced visit to Cuba earlier this week by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, apparently to pay homage to the late Fidel Castro, has rekindled criticisms about the the Cuban government’s strong influence on Venezuela’s crisis.

“Mr. Maduro traveled secretly last night to Cuba. Why did he go? He’s been to Havana more than Maracaibo or San Cristobal,” Venezuelan opposition leader and Miranda state Gov. Henrique Capriles wrote in Spanish on a Tweet posted Monday.

“Why did Mr. Maduro go?” Capriles added in a video posted Wednesday on Periscope. “To hand over more of our oil? To commit our armed forces even more, asking for reinforcements from the Cuban military so they can continue … to command the Venezuelan military?”

In the midst of the deepening political crisis in Venezuela, opposition activists in both countries have stepped up their complaints about what they allege to be the noxious influence of Havana over domestic affairs in the South American country.

“The Castro government tests and applies all its repressive technology in Venezuela,” said a declaration signed by 42 Cuban government opponents. “Havana designs the strategy for installing a totalitarian regime, and sends the agents necessary to carry out those objectives. The Chavista regime, plagued by corruption and drug trafficking, has been the perfect ally.”

The declaration signers — including prominent Cuban dissidents Berta Soler, Guillermo Fariñas, José Daniel Ferrer and Antonio Rodiles — added that Cuban ruler Raúl Castro and his son Alejandro, as well as Maduro and his No. 2., Diosdado Cabello, “should be held equally responsible for the disastrous situation in the sister nation.”

For the Venezuelan opposition, the issue of alleged Cuban interference is of such importance, that in a declaration criticizing President Donald Trump’s recent mention of a possible U.S. military intervention in their country, the Caracas-based Mesa de la Unidad (Democratic Unity Coalition) alleged that “military and political interference by Cuba has not only affected our sovereignty and independence but is one of the main causes for the government’s violence and repression.”

Maduro’s trip to Cuba and meeting with Raúl Castro, kept secret until it was confirmed by the Cuban news media Wednesday, highlighted a frequent criticism of the Venezuelan president: that he accepts too much political advice from Havana.

“I believe the proposal for a new Constituent Assembly was created in Cuba,” said Cuban author Carlos Alberto Montaner. “Under the current constitution they could not carry out a communist revolution. They needed a tighter model because the experience of the Cuban government is that if they build a system for defending the political model, they survive.”

Raúl Castro recently congratulated Maduro for ordering the Constituent Assembly in a letter that appeared to sum up his advice to Caracas: resist and appeal to “the unity of the people.”

“Experience shows that each act of terrorism lifts the morale of the people, each attack makes it stronger, each blow strengthens unity,” Castro wrote.

Castro also predicted “days of powerful struggles, of international harassment, of blockades, of restrictions. But they will also be days of creativity and work for revolutionaries and the entire Venezuelan people which, like today … will have us Cubans on the first row of militant solidarity.”

The stability of the Maduro government is vital to Cuba because Venezuela has been its biggest trade partners and provides the island with highly subsidized oil. Although the oil shipments have dropped significantly in recent months, Maduro remains committed to a level of supply that has kept the Cuban economy from total collapse.

he Venezuelan opposition has been denouncing the Cuban presence in the country for years. After the alliance between Fidel Castro and the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Cuba gained a powerful influence over the South American nation, including its national identification system, the PDVSA oil monopoly and many government ministries. In 2012, opposition activist María Corina Machado demanded an investigation of the Cuban military’s Cooperation and Liaison Group (GRUCE) in Venezuela, led by Gen. Ermio Hernández Rodríguez.

“As OAS Secretary General, Luis Almargo, said at a Senate hearing on July 19th, there are approximately 15,000 Cuban regime military and security forces who are acting ‘like an occupation army from Cuba in Venezuela,’ ” said Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, R-Fl.

“…The world needs to know and stand up against the occupation of Venezuela by the Cuban regime and it needs to support the appeals of the Venezuelan people for democracy and basic human rights,” Díaz-Balart added.

The U.S. government has not taken a clear position on the issue, although it has imposed sanctions on Venezuelan government officials and is drafting new regulations expected to ban U.S. companies from doing business with companies controlled by the Cuban military.

The State Department declined to answer questions about the Cuban meddling in Venezuela. But CIA Director Mike Pompeo recently said that U.S. concerns over the Venezuelan crisis were justified by the presence of Cuba and hostile countries like Russia and Iran.

“The Cubans are there. The Russians are there. The Iranians and Hezbollah are there,” Pompeo said in an interview with the Fox TV network. “This is something that has a risk of getting to a very, very bad place. So, America needs to take this very seriously.”

Jason Poblete, a lawyer in Washington who follows U.S. policies for the Western hemisphere, said Cuba is trying to support the Maduro government at all costs because it is desperate to continue receiving Venezuelan oil.

“Cuba wants to protect the oil,” he said. “If you want to resolve the Venezuelan problem, you have to resolve the Cuba issue.”

Trump’s Talk of ‘Military Option’ in Venezuela May Bolster Maduro’s Hand

The thought of military intervention in Venezuela probably took many Americans by surprise when it was floated on Friday by President Trump. But in Venezuela, it was a threat that would have sounded familiar, as if the words had been scripted by the government itself.

For years, Venezuela’s leaders have warned of an impending danger from the United States. They claimed American spy planes were flying close to the border. They said United States diplomats had assassination plans for Venezuelan leaders. And at times of domestic crisis, the country’s top officials have said that Washington is planning to invade.

Few besides the most fervent government loyalists ever saw truth in the plots. But Mr. Trump’s suggestion that he was considering a “military option” to deal with the crisis in Venezuela may well breathe life into some of the government’s more wild claims.

“Maduro’s theory of war will be much more concrete and believable,” said David Smilde, an analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, referring to Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s leftist president. “This will undoubtedly galvanize his coalition.”

Mr. Trump, speaking with reporters on Friday after a meeting with Rex W. Tillerson, the secretary of state, said for the first time that he might use the American military to intervene in Venezuela’s deepening unrest, which has left more than 120 dead this year.

“We are all over the world and we have troops all over the world in places that are very, very far away,” Mr. Trump said. “Venezuela is not very far away and the people are suffering, and they are dying. We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary.”

Venezuela’s defense minister, Vladimir Padrino López, called the statement an “act of madness.”

The foreign ministry said Mr. Trump’s “bellicose” and “reckless” remarks were intended “to drag Latin America and the Caribbean into a conflict that would permanently alter the stability, peace and security in our region.”

The current tensions stem from a plan by Mr. Maduro to consolidate power in the country. On July 30, he held a vote to install a new body, called the Constituent Assembly, that would give his ruling leftist party the right to rule the country unopposed for up to two years while rewriting the Constitution.

As the vote approached, Mr. Trump warned repeatedly that he would not tolerate the move, and he issued sanctions against members of Mr. Maduro’s government. When the vote occurred, the White House imposed sanctions on Mr. Maduro and on Friday refused to take a call Mr. Maduro had wanted to place with Mr. Trump.

Few analysts believe the United States has any real intention of using its military against Venezuela.

And while the president may have intended his remarks as a warning meant to restrain the Venezuelan government, analysts said, they could have the opposite effect, strengthening Mr. Maduro’s hand as he cracks down on dissent and blames Washington for his country’s economic and domestic strife.

“These are empty threats,” said Shannon K. O’Neil, a Latin America analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations. “And since they are empty threats, Maduro faces no new consequences by taking a tough stand, both rhetorically and against the opposition.”
Continue reading at New York Times

Diosdado Cabello, the “Pablo Escobar of Venezuela” may have issued a death order against Marco Rubio

The Miami Herald

Powerful Venezuelan lawmaker may have issued death order against Rubio

One of Venezuela’s most powerful leaders may have put out an order to kill Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a fervent critic of the South American country’s government, according to intelligence obtained by the U.S. last month.

Though federal authorities couldn’t be sure at the time if the uncorroborated threat was real, they took it seriously enough that Rubio has been guarded by a security detail for several weeks in both Washington and Miami.

Believed to be behind the order: Diosdado Cabello, the influential former military chief and lawmaker from the ruling socialist party who has publicly feuded with Rubio.

At a July 19 Senate hearing, the same day he was first spotted with more security, Rubio repeated his line that Cabello — who has long been suspected by U.S. authorities of drug trafficking — is “the Pablo Escobar of Venezuela.” A week ago on Twitter, Cabello dubbed the senator “Narco Rubio.”

The death threat was outlined in a memo to several law enforcement agencies disseminated last month by the Department of Homeland Security. The memo, designated “law enforcement sensitive” but not classified, was obtained by the Miami Herald.

The memo revealed an “order to have Senator Rubio assassinated,” though it also warned that “no specific information regarding an assassination plot against Senator Rubio has been garnered thus far” and that the U.S. had not been able to verify the threat. That Cabello has been a vocal Rubio critic in Venezuelan media was also noted, a sign federal authorities are well aware of the political bluster complicating the situation.

According to the memo, Cabello might have gone as far as to contact “unspecified Mexican nationals” in connection with his plan to harm Rubio.

The U.S. believes Cabello controls all of Venezuela’s security forces. Rubio, a Republican, has President Donald Trump’s ear on U.S. policy toward Venezuela.

The Venezuelan Embassy in Washington declined to comment Saturday. Venezuela’s Ministry of Communication and Information said Sunday it could not respond to media queries until Monday. Messages sent to some of Cabello’s email addresses were not immediately returned.

Rubio declined comment through a spokeswoman. His office had previously sent reporters’ questions about the security detail to Capitol Police, which did not respond Saturday but has in the past also declined comment.

Capitol Police “is responsible for the security of members of Congress,” Homeland Security spokesman David Lapan said in a statement. “It would be inappropriate for DHS to comment on the seriousness of the threat.”

Lawmakers have been on heightened alert since a June 14 shooting in Virginia targeted Republican members of Congress practicing baseball. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of California was critically injured. He was protected by Capitol Police officers — who ultimately killed the shooter — only because he is a member of congressional leadership.

Capitol reporters first noticed police officers trailing Rubio almost a month ago. When he was interviewed last week by Herald news partner WFOR-CBS 4, Rubio’s security included at least one Miami-Dade County Police officer. MDPD was one of the law-enforcement agencies asked to help protect Rubio.

Trump: “I don’t rule out a military intervention in Venezuela”

CNBC

President Donald Trump on Friday said he would not rule out a “military option” in Venezuela.

“We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary,” Trump told reporters at his New Jersey golf club on Friday.

The president did not answer a question about whether American troops would lead that potential operation.

“We don’t talk about it. But a military operation, a military option, is certainly something we could pursue,” he responded.

The Trump administration has issued sanctions against Venezuelan leader Nicholas Maduro, whom it calls a “dictator,” and more than two dozen other former and current officials. The U.S. accuses Maduro’s regime of violating human rights and subverting democratic processes.

‘Sonic attack’: Canadian diplomat in Cuba also suffered hearing damage

The Guardian

At least one Canadian diplomat in Cuba has been treated for hearing loss following disclosures that a group of American diplomats in Havana suffered severe hearing loss that US officials believe was caused by an advanced sonic device.

Brianne Maxwell, Canadian government spokeswoman for global affairs, said officials “are aware of unusual symptoms affecting Canadian and US diplomatic personnel and their families in Havana. The government is actively working – including with US and Cuban authorities – to ascertain the cause.”

Maxwell added that officials did not have any reason to believe Canadian tourists and other visitors could be affected.

Canada helped broker talks between Cuba and the United States that led to restored diplomatic relations.

In the autumn of 2016 a series of US diplomats began suffering unexplained losses of hearing, according to officials with knowledge of the investigation into the case. Several of the diplomats were recent arrivals at the embassy, which reopened in 2015 as part of President Barack Obama’s re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Some of the US diplomats’ symptoms were so severe they were forced to cancel their tours early and return to the United States, officials said. After months of investigation US officials concluded that the diplomats had been attacked with an advanced sonic weapon that operated outside the range of audible sound and had been deployed either inside or outside their residences.

It was not immediately clear if the device was a weapon used in a deliberate attack, or had some other purpose.

The US officials weren’t authorised to discuss the investigation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the US retaliated by expelling two Cuban diplomats from their embassy in Washington on 23 May. She did not say how many US diplomats were affected or confirm they had suffered hearing loss, saying only that they had “a variety of physical symptoms”.

The Cuban government said in a lengthy statement late on Wednesday that “Cuba has never permitted, nor will permit, that Cuban territory be used for any action against accredited diplomatic officials or their families, with no exception”.

The statement from the Cuban foreign ministry said it had been informed on 17 February of the incidents and launched an “exhaustive, high-priority, urgent investigation at the behest of the highest level of the Cuban government”.

It said the decision to expel two Cuban diplomats was “unjustified and baseless.”

The ministry said it had created an expert committee to analyse the incidents and had reinforced security around the US embassy and US diplomatic residences.

“Cuba is universally considered a safe destination for visitors and foreign diplomats, including US citizens,” the statement said.

US officials told the Associated Press that about five diplomats, several with spouses, had been affected and that no children had been involved. The FBI and Diplomatic Security Service are investigating.

Cuba employs a state security apparatus that keeps many people under surveillance and US diplomats are among the most closely monitored people on the island. Like virtually all foreign diplomats in Cuba, the victims of the incidents lived in housing owned and maintained by the Cuban government.

However, officials familiar with the probe said investigators were looking into the possibilities that the incidents were carried out by a third country such as Russia, possibly operating without the knowledge of Cuba’s formal chain of command.

Nauert said investigators did not yet have a definitive explanation for the incidents but stressed they take them “very seriously,” as shown by the Cuban diplomats’ expulsions.

Ailments in Cuba could be result of intel operation gone wrong, expert says

CBS News

U.S. diplomats serving in Cuba have been experiencing health problems, and the cause is a mystery.

It began last year — in Havana. More than a dozen staffers at the U.S. Embassy experienced unexplained ailments that included symptoms like headaches and sleeplessness.

Sources say some suffered permanent hearing damage and some had to return home.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert addressed the report in a Thursday press briefing.

“We don’t know exactly where this came from,” Nauert said. “We cant blame any one individual or a country at this point yet.”

But so far, the investigation has shown that the culprit is likely a high-tech sonic device that can’t be heard by humans, but clearly can be harmful.

Officials believe it was operating in or around the homes of Embassy workers.

The question is: Who put it there and why?

“It’s audio but it’s beyond the range of our ears,” said Vince Houghton, an intelligence historian and curator at the International Spy Museum.

He says Cuba, or even the Russians, could have been carrying out an intelligence operation that went south.

But Houghton and other intelligence experts say it could also have been a routine intimidation campaign taken to another level.

“This could be new technology that had a side effect that no one had expected,” Houghton told CBS News. “On the other hand, it could have been designed … to harass, to make people feel uncomfortable.”

To retaliate, the U.S. kicked out two Cuban diplomats in May.

The Cuban government called the expulsions “unjustified” and “baseless” on state-run television Wednesday night.

The Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs says it “has never, nor would it ever, allow … the Cuban territory [to] be used for any action against accredited diplomatic officials or their families.”

There are indications that diplomats are still being affected, and it’s not just the U.S. Canada says at least one of its diplomats suffered severe hearing loss. The FBI and State Department continue to investigate.

They should sue Obama for their hearing loss!

USA Today

The U.S. has expelled two Cuban diplomats in retaliation for a bizarre incident purportedly involving a covert sonic device that allegedly left a group of American diplomats in Havana with severe hearing loss.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert on Wednesday spoke only cryptically about the matter, referring to an “incident” without elaboration.

Cuba has strongly denied any allegations of wrongdoing.

The purported affair began in late 2016 when a series of U.S. diplomats in Havana began suffering unexplained losses of hearing, according to officials with knowledge of the investigation into the case, the Associated Press reported.

Several of the diplomats had recently arrived at the embassy, which reopened in 2015 as part of former President Obama’s re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba and relaxation of travel restrictions.

Nauert said that as a result of the incident, two Cuban diplomats were ordered to leave their embassy in Washington on May 23.

“We requested their departure as a reciprocal measure since some U.S. personnel’s assignments in Havana had to be curtailed due to these incidents,” she said. “Under the Vienna Convention, Cuba has an obligation to take measures to protect diplomats.”

She did not say how many U.S. diplomats were affected or confirm they suffered hearing loss, saying only that they had “a variety of physical symptoms.” She said none were life-threatening.

In a lengthy statement late Wednesday, the Cuban foreign ministry said “Cuba has never permitted, nor will permit, that Cuban territory be used for any action against accredited diplomatic officials or their families, with no exception.”

The statement said the government had been informed of the incidents Feb. 17 and launched an “exhaustive, high-priority, urgent investigation at the behest of the highest level of the Cuban government.”

It said the decision to expel two Cuban diplomats was “unjustified and baseless.”

The ministry said it created an expert committee to analyze the incidents and reinforced security around the U.S. embassy and U.S. diplomatic residences.

“Cuba is universally considered a safe destination for visitors and foreign diplomats, including U.S. citizens,” the statement said.

The affair is playing out against a backdrop of a change in U.S.-Cuban relations following the inauguration of President Trump, who has tightened travel restrictions to the island nation.

U.S. officials told the Associated Press that about five diplomats, several with spouses, had been affected and that no children were involved. The FBI and Diplomatic Security Service are investigating.

The victims of the incidents lived in housing owned and maintained by the Cuban government, which keeps an eye on diplomats and other foreigners through its state security apparatus.

Officials familiar with the probe, however, told the AP that investigators were looking into the possibility the incidents were carried out by a third country such as Russia, possibly operating without the knowledge of Cuba’s formal chain of command.

U.S. diplomats in Cuba said they suffered occasional harassment for years after Washington established limited ties with the the communist government in the 1970s. Similar harassment was visited upon Cuban diplomats in Washington by U.S. agents. The use of sonic devices to intentionally harm diplomats, however, would be unprecedented.

Venezuelan military brigade rebels against Maduro’s dictatorship

US NEWS

Venezuelan ruling party chief Diosdado Cabello says Sunday that there was a “terrorist” attack at a military base controlled by troops loyal to the government and several people were arrested.

Cabello reported via Twitter that troops acted quickly to control the situation in the early morning at the Paramacay base in the central city of Venezuela.

The announcement came after a small group of men dressed in military fatigues, some armed with assault rifles, released a video declaring themselves in rebellion in Carabobo state, where Valencia is located.

In the video a man identifying himself as Capt. Juan Caguaripano said that any unit refusing to go along with its call for rebellion would be declared a military target.

The South American has for months been in the throes of a political crisis with protests that have left more than 100 dead, nearly 2,000 wounded and over 500 detained.

On Saturday prominent opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was returned home to serve his sentence under house arrest, days after being hauled back to prison in the middle of the night in a move that drew international condemnation.

The activist’s wife Lilian Tintori said in a message on Twitter that she and her husband remained committed to achieving “peace and freedom for Venezuela.”

Lopez was released from prison July 8 and placed under house arrest after serving three years of a 13-year sentence on charges of inciting violence at opposition rallies. Many human rights groups considered him a political prisoner.

But he was taken back into custody last Tuesday along with former Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma in what many believed was a renewed crackdown on the opposition following the election of delegates to a new, all-powerful constitutional assembly charged with overhauling the nation’s charter.

That assembly voted unanimously on Saturday to remove Venezuela’s chief prosecutor, a longtime government loyalist who broke with President Nicolas Maduro in April. Cries of “traitor” and “justice” erupted during the vote to oust Luisa Ortega from her post.

Delegates said they were acting in response to a ruling by the government-stacked Supreme Court, which banned Ortega from leaving the country and froze her bank accounts while it weighs criminal charges against her for alleged irregularities.

Ortega refused to recognize the decision and vowed to continue defending the rights of Venezuelans from Maduro’s “coup” against the constitution “with my last breath.”

“This is just a tiny example of what’s coming for everyone that dares to oppose this totalitarian form of government,” Ortega said in the statement she signed as chief prosecutor. “If they’re doing this to the chief prosecutor, imagine the helpless state all Venezuelans live in.”

She alleged that authorities were desperate to get their hands on dossiers containing information on dirty dealings by high-level officials, including sensitive details about millions of dollars in bribes paid by Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.

Assembly delegates later swore in as her replacement Ombudsman Tarek William Saab, who was recently sanctioned by the Trump administration for failing to protect protesters from abuses in his role as the nation’s top human rights official.

The constitutional assembly was seated despite strong criticism from the United States, other countries and the Venezuelan opposition, which fear that it will be a tool for imposing dictatorship. Supporters say it will pacify a country rocked by violent protests.

Its installation is virtually certain to intensify a political crisis that has brought four months of protests in which at least 120 people have died and hundreds more have been jailed.

Maduro also wants the assembly to strip opposition lawmakers of their constitutional immunity from prosecution, saying their constant conspiring to oust him shouldn’t be protected.

While members of congress say they will only be removed by force, the opposition is struggling to regain its footing in the face of the government’s strong-arm tactics and the re-emergence of old, internal divisions.