Venezuela's president Nicolas Maduro and the Supreme Court backed down Saturday from an unprecedented move to strip congress of its legislative powers that had sparked widespread charges that the South American country was no longer a democracy. The court on Saturday reinstated congress' authority.
It was a rare instance of the embattled socialist president backing away from a move to increase his power. Opposition leaders dismissed the reversal as too little too late. They said the clarification issued by the judges only proved yet again that Maduro controls the courts and there is no longer a real separation of powers in Venezuela.
At the same time, critics celebrated the reversal as proof that cracks are beginning to show in Maduro's control of a country spiraling into chaos, with his approval ratings dipping below 20 percent amid the worsening economic and humanitarian crisis.
Opposition leaders recast a planned Saturday protest as an open air meeting. Hundreds of supporters joined congress members in a wealthy Caracas neighborhood to celebrate the rare victory.
Saturday's revision undoes most of the original court decision, but will still allow Maduro to enter into joint oil ventures without congressional approval. Supreme Court president Maikel Moreno met with diplomats in the morning and warned that the court would not "remain passive" in the face of attacks on the country's right to self-rule.
Maduro issued his instructions to the court after an emergency night meeting of the National Security Council Friday night that was boycotted by congress leaders.
Small protests popped up all around the capital beginning at dawn Friday. Troops from the National Guard fired buckshot and swung batons at students protesting in front of the Supreme Court, and several journalists had their cameras confiscated.
As the country's currency hemorrhaged value and some analysts began to project the beginning of the end of 18 years of socialist rule in Venezuela. Maduro invited congress president Julio Borges to speak with him about the situation, but Borges refused, breaking a years-long streak in which the opposition ramps up pressure on the administration only to help diffuse it at the last minute by coming to the bargaining table, usually fruitlessly.
"In Venezuela the only dialogue possible is the vote," Borges said Friday night.
Maduro was conspicuously silent during much of the two days of turmoil. Then on Saturday, dressed in black and waving copy of Venezuelan constitution, likened the international condemnation to a "political lynching." He concluded his remarks with a call for more dialogue.