Venezuela’s new con­gress leader blasts Maduro

The Bradenton Herald (Sunday) - - Local - BY SCOTT SMITH

CARA­CAS, VENEZUELA

Venezuela’s op­po­si­tion­con­trolled con­gress opened its first ses­sion of the year Sat­ur­day, in­stalling a fresh-faced leader who struck a de­fi­ant tone and vowed to take up the bat­tle against so­cial­ist Pres­i­dent Ni­colás Maduro.

Juan Guaido, 35, as­sumes the pres­i­dency of a Na­tional As­sem­bly stripped of power by Maduro, whose gov­ern­ment is blamed for lead­ing the once-wealthy oil na­tion into a his­toric po­lit­i­cal and hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis.

Speak­ing to leg­is­la­tors, Guaido named off sev­eral op­po­si­tion politi­cians and op­po­nents of Maduro’s gov­ern­ment who have been jailed, driven into ex­ile or killed. He said des­per­a­tion has forced masses of cit­i­zens to flee abroad look­ing for work.

“We are un­der an op­pres­sive sys­tem,” he said. “It’s not just that – it is mis­er­able.”

Tall and youth­ful, Guaido rep­re­sents the next gen­er­a­tion of Venezue­lan po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion, tak­ing up the as­sem­bly’s lead­er­ship fol­low­ing 74-year-old Omar Bar­boza.

Guaido is an in­dus­trial en­gi­neer and for­mer stu­dent leader from the same po­lit­i­cal party as Leopoldo López, Venezuela’s most pop­u­lar op­po­si­tion leader un­der house ar­rest. Gov­ern­ment op­po­nents con­sider him a po­lit­i­cal pris­oner.

Guaido called Maduro a dic­ta­tor whose le­git­i­macy has run out. Venezuela is liv­ing a “dark but tran­si­tional” mo­ment of its his­tory, he said, adding that among its first acts con­gress will cre­ate a tran­si­tional body to re­store con­sti­tu­tional or­der, but he of­fered no de­tails.

He ad­dressed a hall filled only with op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers as the gov­ern­ment loy­al­ists have long boy­cotted any ses­sions, say­ing the Na­tional As­sem­bly has it­self over­stepped its au­thor­ity.

How­ever, roughly 20 for­eign di­plo­mats from the United States, Canada, Ja­pan, Italy and Ger­many at­tended the as­sem­bly’s in­au­gu­ral ses­sion in a show of sol­i­dar­ity.

It opened days be­fore Maduro’s in­au­gu­ra­tion to a sec­ond, six-year term widely con­demned as il­le­git­i­mate af­ter he de­clared vic­tory in the May 20 elec­tion that many for­eign pow­ers con­sid­ered a sham.

Venezuela’s so­cial­ist party boss Dios­dado Ca- bello said Sat­ur­day that Maduro will be sworn in Thurs­day be­fore the Su-

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