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    Venezuela's Supreme Court in Caracas. | Photo: Reuters

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The Supreme Court ruled that the National Assembly was in contempt of the constitution in January 2016.

As the usual suspects attack the Bolivarian government in Venezuela for a ruling today by the Supreme Court of Justice, claiming that there has been a "coup" and that the country has fallen into a dictatorship, the Venezuelan government has denounced this attempt at destabilizing the government.

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Venezuela Supreme Court Says National Assembly Still in Contempt

Following an appeal filed by the Venezuelan Corporation of Petroleum to Article 33 of the Organic Law of Hydrocarbons on the creation of joint ventures, the court ruled that since the National Assembly continues to be in contempt of the constitution, the top court will "ensure the rule of law" and will exercise parliamentary powers where necessary.

"As long as the disrespect and invalidity of the proceedings of the National Assembly persists, this Constitutional Chamber will ensure that the parliamentary powers are exercised directly by this Chamber or by the body it has in place to ensure the rule of law," said the ruling.

The U.S. issued a condemnation saying that the "Venezuelan Supreme Court's March 29 decision ... usurp(ed) the power of the democratically-elected National Assembly." Opposition leader Julio Borges, who was elected president of the parliament by his fellow opposition legislators in spite of the ruling, described this as a "coup" and called for the court to be disavowed.

Opposition ally and OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro called the ruling a "self-coup," while Peru withdrew its ambassador to the country. On Twitter, the phrase "coup d'etat" was trending although on the streets of Venezuela everything was calm, with no interruption in governance.

While the reactions have been plentiful, the ruling from the top court was not actually anything new, nor does it actually imply a dissolution of the country's national assembly and its powers.

Here is what is really going on.

National Assembly Has Been in Contempt of the Constitution Since 2016

On Jan. 5, 2016, the Supreme Court declared the National Assembly in contempt of the constitution for swearing-in three opposition lawmakers whose elections were temporarily suspended for voting irregularities in the state of Amazonas. Given that it has been operating with non-verified legislators, the court has said all of the assembly's actions are illegal.

Amazonas Candidates Tried to Buy Votes

There are recordings in which the then-secretary of the government of Amazonas, Victoria Franchi, offered sums of money to groups of people to vote for the opposition candidates. Therefore, the court suspended the election results from the state. However, the National Assembly flaunted this ruling and swore them in as deputies.

National Assembly Could Restore Its Status Easily but Has Refused

According to constitutional lawyer Enrique Tineo Suquet, the National Assembly could easily resolve its legal status by requesting the body's elected president call for a session to remove the three lawmakers and hold new elections for the positions. Tineo Suquet said that despite this, the assembly has decided to remain in contempt.

It's All in the Constitution: National Assembly Not Annulled

Article 336.9 of the country's constitution gives powers to the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court to resolve any situation that may arise among the state powers. According to Venezuela's constitution, the functions of the constitutional branch of the Supreme Court include acting "to resolve constitutional controversies arising between any of the organs of Public Power."

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