Attorney General Luisa Ortega, the most high-profile official to break ranks with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, smiles at the National Assembly in Caracas, on July 3, 2017. A political and economic crisis in the oil-producing country has spawned often violent demonstrations by protesters demanding Maduro’s resignation and new elections. The unrest has left 89 people dead since April 1. / AFP PHOTO / Federico PARRA
Her enemies have branded her insane, but those close to Venezuela’s Attorney General Luisa Ortega say her defiance of the government over the country’s deadly political crisis is pure courage.
A longtime sympathizer of the socialist movement that brought President Nicolas Maduro to power, Ortega, 59, says her relatives have received threats since she has emerged as the biggest challenge to his authority.
Her legal challenges have put more pressure on Maduro than months of legislative maneuvers by the opposition MUD coalition, which blames the president for Venezuela’s economic collapse.
In return, Maduro’s allies have set the state judiciary in motion against her.
On Tuesday the Supreme Court will hear charges of misconduct brought against her by government allies. It will rule whether Ortega should be suspended from office and face trial.
“Now more than ever we have to unite and join forces to restore the state of law,” she said in a video message released Monday.
– ‘Dutiful’ or ‘traitor’ –
Maduro has branded Ortega a traitor.
Pro-government lawmaker Pedro Carreno on June 13 filed a motion in the legislature calling for experts to declare Ortega was suffering from “insanity.”
He also filed charges in the Supreme Court accusing Ortega of “serious errors in the carrying-out of her functions.”
Ortega’s husband of 18 years, socialist lawmaker German Ferrer, said she was “doing her duty” in defying Maduro.
“She would face up to anything to defend her values. She is the guarantor of legality in this country,” he told AFP.
“She is a very level-headed person, brave and honest.”
Ortega was a supporter of “Chavismo,” the socialist “revolution” movement launched by Maduro’s late predecessor Hugo Chavez in the 1990s.
She was named state attorney for Caracas in 2002, and that year secured the convictions of police officers who attempted to topple Chavez in a failed coup.
Chavez approved her appointment as attorney general in 2007, and she was re-appointed in 2014 by a pro-Chavez legislature.
Ortega was also behind the controversial case that led to prominent opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez being handed a 14-year prison sentence in 2014 for allegedly inciting violence.
Another prosecutor in that case later fled Venezuela and declared that Lopez’s conviction was ill-founded.
Lopez’s lawyer Juan Carlos Gutierrez described Ortega as “an affable and respectful woman.”
But he said that “in Leopoldo’s case the public prosecution acted in a very irregular manner.”
Disillusioned with government
Ortega’s husband said that she became disillusioned with the government last year when the political conflict deepened and more opponents were locked up.
Ortega spoke out publicly when the Supreme Court tried to seize power from the legislative National Assembly in late March. She branded the short-lived move “a breach of constitutional order.”
The rift laid bare by that declaration has since appeared to widen. If a party stalwart such as Ortega can break ranks, analysts say, others might follow.
Ortega has filed legal challenges against Maduro’s plan for constitutional reform, alleging it is a threat to democracy and human rights.
She has accused the military of repressing protesters in deadly anti-government clashes that have left 89 people dead.
And she tried to sue the Supreme Court judges themselves, questioning the grounds on which they were appointed.
Pro-Chavez political scientist Nicmer Evans, a Maduro critic, said Ortega had a critical role to play in “restoring the country’s institutions.”
“She represents the worthy, democratic side of Chavismo,” Evans said, “as opposed to the totalitarian pretensions of Maduro’s camp.”