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