Outgoing Venezuela congress promotes judge who imposed controversial Lopez sentence

Venezuela's outgoing congress has promoted a judge who drew international criticism by handing down a long prison term to opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.

Lawmakers from the ruling socialist party named Judge Susana Barreiros as head public defender days after the opposition won a landslide congressional victory that represented the first major change to the balance of power in more than a decade.

Opposition leaders took the Thursday appointment as an affront and said the appointment showed how little respect the ruling party has for human rights and international opinion.

Outgoing National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello responded gleefully, saying the more the "bourgeois" opposition attacks the judge, the more it solidifies her revolutionary credentials.

In September, Barreiros gave Lopez the maximum possible sentence of 14 years in prison for his role in leading anti-government street protests that turned bloody in 2014.

The appointment was part of what promises to be a string of actions aimed at consolidating power before the socialists hand over the legislature to the opposition.

Lawmakers also gave workers control of the National Assembly television station in a bid to keep it out of the hands of the opposition. Incoming congressmen have been eagerly planning what to do with the channel, having been frozen out of the state television landscape for years, and mostly ignored even by privately held stations.

Opposition lawmakers have promised to use the channel to air investigations into topics like corruption.

It's unclear whether the new congress will be able to take it back from the newly created worker collective in January.

Next week, the outgoing congress is expected to name a group of new judges to the Supreme Court, where they will serve out 12-year terms unless the opposition congress manages to impeach them.

Unlike the president, Venezuela's high court has the power to negate legislation.

Opposition lawmakers have pledged to pass a bill granting amnesty to Lopez and some 70 other activists considered political prisoners as their first order of business. Hardliners are also promising to launch a campaign to recall unpopular President Nicolas Maduro. That could free Lopez from prison and pave the way for him to run for president.

Maduro in a speech this week reiterated his claim that Lopez is a murderer, and promised to fight any amnesty law. He also threatened to put on hold public housing projects because the people had failed to support him when he needed it.

Former Cuban President Fidel Castro lauded Maduro in a note published Friday for courage in accepting the results of Sunday's vote in a speech the Venezuelan leader delivered minutes after elections officials announced his party's loss.


Hannah Dreier is on Twitter: twitter.com/hannahdreier. Her work can be found at bigstory.ap.org/content/hannah-dreier.