Guaidó and supporters retake control of Venezuelan congress

Opposition leader pushes past armed troops to re-enter chamber after failing to gain entry on Sunday

Juan Guaidó, leader of the Venezuela’s opposition, leads legislators through a National Guard blockade and into the National Assembly in Caracas on Tuesday. Photograph: Adriana Loureiro Fernández/New York Times

Juan Guaidó, leader of the Venezuela’s opposition, leads legislators through a National Guard blockade and into the National Assembly in Caracas on Tuesday. Photograph: Adriana Loureiro Fernández/New York Times

 

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó and allied legislators pushed past armed troops and forced open the doors of congress on Tuesday to hold a session two days after the ruling Socialist Party seized control of the body by proclaiming new leadership.

Pro-government legislators on Sunday declared Luis Parra the head of congress after troops in riot shields blocked opposition deputies from backing Mr Guaidó for a second term, but defiant legislators declared the session null and re-elected him anyway.

Mr Guaidó on Tuesday morning argued with troops in riot gear to get into the courtyard of congress, and lawmakers then overpowered the frightened National Guard troops who guarded the tall wooden doors leading to the floor of parliament.

“Brave legislators today literally opened the doors of democracy,” Mr Guaidó said in an afternoon meeting of lawmakers at a meeting hall in eastern Caracas. “Today, the legislators gave a great victory to the people of Venezuela. ”

He announced a rally on Saturday and called on supporters to join legislators in returning next Tuesday to congress, signaling continued confrontation with Socialist Party officials who are seeking to take over the last major state institution not under their control.

Mr Guaidó also demanded an “urgent meeting” with defence minister Vladimir Padrino to explain the heavy military presence in congress. Troops on Sunday blockaded large parts of downtown Caracas and pulled Mr Guaidó down from wrought-iron gates outside parliament as he tried desperately to climb inside.

Petrol shortages

Earlier on Tuesday, pro-government legislators held a brief session led by Mr Parra – who was sworn in by allies of President Nicolás Maduro as parliament chief on Sunday.

The session included a debate over proposals to tackle widespread shortages of petrol and ended in under an hour.

Pro-government deputies left the floor of parliament just before Mr Guaidó arrived. Mr Parra was later seen running through the courtyard in an apparent effort to avoid crossing paths with Mr Guaidó.

Socialist Party deputy Francisco Torrealba on state television accused the opposition of violently breaking into congress, and insisted the institution was still controlled by Mr Parra.

Mr Parra’s swearing in Sunday marked an escalation of Mr Maduro’s crackdown on the opposition whose key international ally, the Trump administration, has so far been unsuccessful in its year-long attempt to oust Mr Maduro through economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure.

US special envoy for Venezuela Elliott Abrams said on Monday that Washington was preparing new sanctions to step up pressure on Caracas.

But Mr Maduro’s move suggests he does not expect major consequences from the United States, though the government has steered clear of actions – such as arresting Mr Guaidó – that could provoke a harsher response.

Corruption allegations

In a state television address on Tuesday evening, Maduro dismissed the day’s events as “a violent show” by the opposition due to internal disputes among its various factions.

Mr Parra last year was expelled from the First Justice opposition party in late 2019 due to corruption allegations, which he has denied.

Dozens of countries, including the United States, denounced Mr Parra’s appointment as illegitimate, and said they continued to recognise Mr Guaidó as the parliament’s head and as Venezuela’s rightful president.

Washington is now considering sanctions on Mr Parra and more than a dozen other lawmakers who took part in Mr Maduro’s bid to wrest control of congress, said two people familiar with the matter.

Mr Guaidó was elected head of the congress in January 2019 and invoked Venezuela’s constitution to assume an interim presidency, denouncing Mr Maduro as a usurper who had secured re-election in a 2018 vote widely considered fraudulent.

So far, Mr Maduro has fended off Mr Guaidó’s challenge, retaining control of the armed forces and tightening the noose around opposition deputies. More than 30 of Mr Guaidó’s congressional allies are in hiding, in prison, or in exile. – Reuters