Venezuela lawmakers attacked
Four opposition lawmakers hurt
Opposition lawmaker Americo De Grazia is led away by bodyguards and a National Assembly employee after he was injured in a melee with supposed government supporters who tried to force their way into the National Assembly on Wednesday during a special session coinciding with Venezuela’s independence day in Caracas. At least five lawmakers were injured in the attack. De Grazia had to be taken in a stretcher to an ambulance suffering from convulsions, a lawmaker said.
CARACAS, Venezuela — Pro-government militia members wielding wooden sticks and metal bars stormed the congressional building on Wednesday and began attacking opposition lawmakers during a special session coinciding with Venezuela’s independence day.
Four lawmakers were injured, and blood was seen on the neoclassical building’s white walls. One of the lawmakers, Americo de Grazia, had to be taken to an ambulance on a stretcher while he suffered from convulsions, said a fellow congressman.
“This doesn’t hurt as much as watching how every day how we lose a little bit more of our country,” Armando Arias said from inside an ambulance as he was being treated for head wounds.
The attack, in plain view of national guardsmen assigned to protect the legislature, came amid three months of often-violent confrontations between security forces and protesters who accuse the government of trying to establish a dictatorship by jailing foes, pushing aside the opposition-controlled legislature and rewriting the constitution to avoid fair elections.
Tensions were already high after Vice President Tareck El Aissami made an unannounced morning visit to the National Assembly, accompanied by top government and military officials, for an event celebrating independence day.
The short appearance by top officials who have repeatedly dismissed the legislators as a band of U.S.-backed conspirators was seen by many as a provocation.
Standing next to a display case holding the founding charter, El Aissami said global powers are once again trying to subjugate Venezuela.
“We still haven’t finished definitively breaking the chains of the empire,” he said, adding that President Nicolas Maduro’s plans to rewrite the constitution — a move the opposition sees as a power grab — offers Venezuela the best chance to be truly independent.
After he left, dozens of government supporters set up a picket outside the building, heckling lawmakers with menacing chants and eventually invading the legislature’s building.
Despite the violence, lawmakers approved a plan by the opposition to hold a symbolic referendum on July 16 that would give voters the chance to reject Maduro’s plans to draft a new political charter.
Maduro condemned the violence but complained that the opposition doesn’t do enough to control “terrorist attacks” committed against security forces by anti-government protesters.
“I will never be an accomplice to acts of violence,” Maduro said during a speech at a military parade.
The attack followed Tuesday’s appearance of a five-minute video posted by a former police inspector who claimed to have stolen a helicopter and fired on two government buildings last week.
Oscar Perez, repeating a call for rebellion among the security forces, said he was in Caracas after abandoning the helicopter along the Caribbean coast. He said he was ready for the “second phase” of his campaign to free his homeland from what he called the corrupt rule of Maduro and his “assassin” allies.
Perez gave no other details but pledged to join those who have been protesting on the streets for the past three months.
“Stop talking. Get on the streets. Take action. Fight,” he said in the video, sitting in front of a Venezuelan flag with what looks like an assault rifle by his side. He also denounced Maduro’s plan to rewrite the constitution.
“If this constitutional assembly goes through, Venezuela will cease to exist because we’ll have given away the country to the Cubans,” he said.
The bold though largely harmless June 27 attack shocked Venezuelans who had grown accustomed to almost-daily clashes since April between often-violent youth protesters and security forces. The protests have left more than 90 people dead and hundreds injured.
Perez is said to have piloted the stolen police helicopter that sprayed 15 bullets toward the Interior Ministry and dropped at least two grenades over the Supreme Court building.
While Maduro claimed Perez had stolen the helicopter on a U.S.-backed mission to oust him from power, many in the opposition questioned whether the incident was staged by the government to distract attention from the president’s increasingly authoritarian rule.
Venezuelan pro-government militiamen attack opposition lawmaker Franco Casella as they storm the congressional building in Caracas during a special session Wednesday, the country’s independence day.