KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Venezuela could be moving closer to a dictatorship under President Nicolas Maduro, and that's because the Supreme Court has dissolved the National Assembly. That's the country's congress. It was the last remnant of opposition inside the government. Today, Venezuela's powerful attorney general said that move violates the constitution, and she's greatly concerned.
Javier Corrales is a professor at Amherst College who studies Latin American democracies, and here's what he said about the Supreme Court's move.
JAVIER CORRALES: It was surprising because it was very bold, but it fit perfectly well with what the government had been doing for the past year, which is to figure out ways to disable the National Assembly. So in the end, it's part of a process of cracking down on the opposition and eliminating the system of checks and balances in Venezuela.
MCEVERS: You're in touch with people in Venezuela, and this country, as we know, has been in a severe economic crisis for years. How are people reacting to this - what some would call a political crisis?
CORRALES: I think we are at a point in Venezuela where most Venezuelans consider themselves right now in opposition to the government. This opposition is based on two major complaints. The first one is the gradual reduction of pluralism and political freedoms and, secondly, the economic crisis, which is by far the worst economic crisis in the history of Venezuela, the worst economic crisis of any petro-state or oil state at the moment.
So this is a very unlivable country for those who are not close to power. And though it's too early to tell whether this particular occurrence today might trigger more instability than what we have already witnessed, there's no question that there is significant widespread discontent in Venezuela against the government.
MCEVERS: What are you looking for next? I mean do you see any solution in sight?
CORRALES: Well, what I think is perhaps the most shocking news of the day - which is the attorney general, a woman who is very aligned with the government, expressed a dissenting view. This might have major repercussions. It would be the first time that we can say that there have been major defections from the top leadership.
If this propagates, we might begin to see the start of a split at the top, at the level of government, and we tend to think in political signs that this could be the very beginning of a possible change in the command of the government - not necessarily a transition, but it could be an opening.
MCEVERS: Do any other countries in the region have any leverage here to change the situation?
CORRALES: I would say that only the United States could inflict some kind of economic punishment because the United States buys most of Venezuela's oil. So the United States could in principle declare an oil embargo. However, repeatedly since the Bush administration, U.S. presidents have refused to take this step.
So it's - while the United States could definitely decide not to buy more oil from Venezuela, it may not want to do it because it might suffer some consequences from it and in the end not necessarily succeed in changing the government in Venezuela.
MCEVERS: Javier Corrales is a professor of political science at Amherst College. Thank you for your time today.
CORRALES: It was my pleasure. Thank you very much.
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