Scuf­fle as Guaidó tries to ad­dress Venezuela’s congress

Orlando Sentinel - - NATION & WORLD - By Fabiola Sanchez and Joshua Good­man

CARA­CAS, Venezuela — Venezue­lan op­po­si­tion leader Juan Guaidó was vi­o­lently blocked Sun­day from pre­sid­ing over a spe­cial ses­sion of congress where ri­vals tried to in­stall a sub­sti­tute in what was con­demned as a hi­jack­ing of the coun­try’s last demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tion.

As a scuf­fle broke out with se­cu­rity forces in riot gear, the U.S.-backed leader tried un­suc­cess­fully to mount an iron fence sur­round­ing the palace where the op­po­si­tion-con­trolled Na­tional Assem­bly was set to elect its leader for the fi­nal year of its 2015-2020 pe­riod.

In­side, the sit­u­a­tion was sim­i­larly rowdy, as a ri­val slate headed by law­maker Luis Parra tried to swear them­selves in as leg­isla­tive lead­ers with the sup­port of so­cial­ist deputies loyal to Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro.

Lack­ing a quo­rum, there was no vote for Parra, the op­po­si­tion said. Guaido’s al­lies, who de­spite some de­fec­tions still en­joy a com­fort­able ma­jor­ity in the 167-seat assem­bly, im­me­di­ately de­nounced the im­promptu ses­sion as in­valid.

“This is noth­ing more than an­other blow to our con­sti­tu­tion,” said Guaidó, whose blue suit was ripped dur­ing the chaotic fisticuffs.

State TV — a mouth­piece for Maduro — cel­e­brated the ini­tia­tive, rais­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of ri­val claims to the leg­is­la­ture’s lead­er­ship in the days ahead, just as Guaidó a year ago as­serted that he was Venezuela’s in­terim pres­i­dent fol­low­ing Maduro’s 2018 re­elec­tion fol­low­ing a cam­paign marred by ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties.

Guaidó said law­mak­ers would gather later Sun­day at the head­quar­ters of El Na­cional, the coun­try’s last ma­jor op­po­si­tion news­pa­per.

Guaidó faced a ma­jor test in unit­ing the op­po­si­tion and ar­tic­u­lat­ing a new vi­sion Sun­day in his year­long cam­paign to re­move Maduro. But his re­elec­tion for a sec­ond straight year as head of congress — the source of his le­git­i­macy in the eyes of more than 50 coun­tries that rec­og­nize him as Venezuela’s right­ful leader — had been widely ex­pected.

The weeks lead­ing up to Sun­day’s vote were marked by ten­sion, with the op­po­si­tion de­nounc­ing a covert gov­ern­ment cam­paign to in­tim­i­date and bribe law­mak­ers into vot­ing against Guaidó.

Parra is one of a small hand­ful of law­mak­ers who re­cently broke with Guaidó and have since been ex­pelled from their par­ties for al­leged in­volve­ment in a cor­rup­tion scan­dal in­volv­ing al­lies of Maduro.

On Sun­day, po­lice of­fi­cers wear­ing anti-riot hel­mets and flanked by metal bar­ri­cades ini­tially blocked sev­eral law­mak­ers and proop­po­si­tion jour­nal­ists from reach­ing the leg­is­la­ture in down­town Cara­cas.

Amid bouts of shov­ing and po­lit­i­cal slo­ga­neer­ing, se­cu­rity forces de­manded that each law­maker present their cre­den­tials, ar­gu­ing they were un­der or­ders to deny en­try to sev­eral law­mak­ers banned from car­ry­ing out their du­ties by the loy­al­ist supreme court.

“Is your fam­ily in Venezuela?” Guaidó asked the young po­lice of­fi­cers, who stood firmly in ner­vous si­lence.

“To­day you’re com­plicit with the dic­ta­tor­ship, you’re com­plicit with those who are re­spon­si­ble for the hunger in­side Venezuela,” he added.

He was even­tu­ally al­lowed though the po­lice line, but blocked from en­ter­ing the leg­is­la­ture.

FED­ERICO PARRA/GETTY-AFP

Venezue­lan op­po­si­tion leader Juan Guaidó is blocked by law en­force­ment as he tries to reach the Na­tional Assem­bly build­ing on Sun­day in Cara­cas.

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