| CARACAS/PUERTO ORDAZ, Venezuela
CARACAS/PUERTO ORDAZ, Venezuela, May 22 (Reuters) -
V enezuela's state prosecutor has panned unpopular President
Nicolas Maduro's plan to create a grassroots congress, deepening
a rare public split among the ruling Socialists as two months of
massive protests show no sign of abating.
Chief State Prosecutor Luisa Ortega had stunned the
crisis-hit nation in March when she lambasted the Supreme Court
for annulling the powers of the opposition-led National
Since then, she has been a wild card within the publicly
homogenous Venezuelan government, the foes of which accuse it of
seeking to dodge elections by creating a parallel assembly with
powers to rewrite the constitution.
Socialist Party official Elias Jaua, in charge of the
"constituent assembly" project, confirmed on Monday that Ortega
had written him to express her discontent in a letter that was
previously leaked on social media.
"It is my imperative to explain the reasons for which I have
decided not to participate in this activity," Ortega's two-page
"Instead of bringing stability or generating a climate of
peace, I think this will accelerate the crisis," she said,
mentioning it would heighten uncertainty and alter the
"unbeatable" constitution launched under late leader Hugo
Jaua acknowledged receipt of Ortega's letter, but quickly
said she was merely expressing a "political opinion," without
any power to change the situation.
"We consider that the only organ the Bolivarian Republic of
Venezuela's constitution empowers to interpret the constitution
is the Supreme Court's constitutional chamber," he said at a
news conference, in reference to the pro-government top court.
Venezuelans are scrutinizing Maduro's government and the
armed forces for any cracks as protesters take to the streets
daily to demand early elections, humanitarian aid to alleviate
food and medicine shortages, and freedom for jailed activists.
While there are no outward signs of major fissures that
would destabilize 18-years of 'Chavista' rule, demonstrators
have been cheered by Ortega's public dissent and by some public
denunciations of officials by their relatives.
While anti-government protests have brought hundreds of
thousands to the streets, Venezuelans are increasingly concerned
about spates of nighttime looting and barricades popping up in
Masked youths man roadblocks and turn back traffic at the
main entrances of certain neighborhoods, or ask motorists for a
monetary "collaboration" to be allowed through.
Those scenes have largely been concentrated outside the
capital Caracas, however, with the jungle and savannah state of
Bolivar hard-hit overnight.
Some 51 buses were burned after a group attacked a transport
company in the city of Puerto Ordaz, the prosecutor's office
said on Monday.
Barricades and clashes with the National Guard were also
rippling through the city on Monday, according to a Reuters
Several opposition leaders have condemned the violence, but
the episodes highlight the risks of protests spinning out of
their control amid widespread anger at Maduro, hunger, and easy
access to weapons in one of the world's most violence countries.
Maduro accuses his opponents of an "armed insurrection,"
backed by the United States, his ideological foe. His government
blames "fascist" protesters for lootings and deaths in unrest
since early April.
The death toll increased to 48 people after a policeman,
Jorge Escandon, died after being injured in the state of
Carabobo during a protest earlier this month, the prosecutor's
office also said on Monday.
Hundreds of people have been injured, and over 2,600
arrested, with around 1,000 still behind bars, according to
The opposition was holding health-focused marches on Monday,
demanding access to proper treatment amid major shortages of
medicines ranging from painkillers to chemotherapy drugs.
"Today, I'm not here as a lawmaker, I'm here marching for my
sister who has a cerebral tumor, a tumor that is growing again
and producing paralysis, a tumor for which Venezuela used to
receive medicine and the injections for this not to happen,"
said opposition lawmaker Miguel Pizarro.
"Today I walk for my brother, who is diabetic, and who, like
my mom, can't find medicine," added Pizarro, part of a new
generation of opposition leaders who have been at the forefront
of protests and often been tear-gassed.
(Additional reporting by Andreina Aponte; Writing by Alexandra