No pay, no expenses, no laws for Venezuela's opposition lawmakers
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A general view of Venezuela's National Assembly during a session in Caracas, Venezuela, April 20, 2016. REUTERS/Marco Bello/File Photo
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By Corina Pons
CARACAS (Reuters) - They say they have not been paid for two months, have had their electricity cut and are sometimes banned from flights - and the laws they pass are blocked anyway.
Venezuela's opposition lawmakers accuse the socialist government of sabotaging their work after winning a majority in congress last December.
The pro-government Supreme Court has blocked all congress' bills from becoming law. Earlier this week, the high court also allowed President Nicolas Maduro to present the 2017 budget without congressional approval.
On a smaller scale, congressmen say they are also being blocked from doing their job because of lack of state resources.
"There's no money for anything," said lawmaker Angel Alvarado, adding he bought printer ink with his own money.
"This is a means of destroying democracy ... They're strangling the Assembly."
OPEC-member Venezuela is suffering through a severe economic crisis with shortages of basic goods and food and rising crime.
Half a dozen opposition lawmakers interviewed by Reuters say they have not been paid for two months, and those living outside the capital Caracas say they have never received travel expenses.
Gabriela Arellano, lawmaker for Tachira state near the Colombian border, said she had been twice prevented from boarding state airlines for a flight to Caracas because her name was on a blacklist. For the last three months, she has had to make the 14-hour trip by road.
Others said they had been stopped when trying to travel to Margarita Island in September for a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Last week, a session of congress was suspended because it did not reach a quorum of 83 out of 167 lawmakers. The opposition said the reason was the logistical problems.
Maduro said attendance problems did not exist when he was a congressman in the then Socialist Party-controlled Congress, blaming "lazy" opposition lawmakers for the suspension of 25 sessions this year.
In a speech on Friday, Maduro seemed to admit lawmakers were not being paid because Congress was defying the law, saying he was only approving money for National Assembly workers.
The Information Ministry and Venezuela's airlines association did not respond to requests for comment.
Lawmakers should receive a 40,000 bolivar monthly salary, just over a dollar a day at the black market exchange rate or $60 a month at the weakest official rate.
"Now I'm a lawmaker, my mom has to look after me," said Arellano, the Tachira state representative.
(Writing by Girish Gupta, Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Alexandra Ulmer and Grant McCool)
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