CARACAS – Chavista lawmakers within the National Assembly elected on Sunday opposition figure Luis Parra president of the legislative body in a hasty and contentious session at which Juan Guaido and other opposition members were not present, having been blocked from entering Parliament by police for several hours.
The oldest lawmaker present in the chamber, Hector Aguero, a supporter of embattled incumbent Nicolas Maduro, served as temporary president of the body at the session, which Guaido’s backers called a “parliamentary coup” given that the lawmakers who elected him did so “without (a sufficient number of) votes or a quorum.”
Guaido, the president of the AN since January 2019, swore in as acting president of Venezuela with the support of the opposition and has received formal recognition of his legitimacy by almost 60 governments worldwide, including the United States and most Latin American and European nations, in his challenge to Maduro’s presidency.
He had been widely expected to be re-elected president of the AN, had he been allowed to attend the session.
Nevertheless, after being blocked from entering Parliament by the government forces, Guaido was reelected on Sunday to a one-year term as president of Parliament in a parallel and improvised session of the chamber held at the headquarters of local daily newspaper El Nacional, although only lawmakers opposed to Maduro and who were not Chavista supporters took part.
One hundred opposition lawmakers voted to reelect Guaido as head of the legislative body, including the members of the July 16 faction, who oppose Maduro but have also habitually been critical of Guaido himself.
The Venezuelan Parliament has 167 members and 84 are required to constitute a quorum.
Before the AN session at which Aguero was elected got under way, having been expected for several months to be a new point of conflict between the Maduro regime and the Guaido-supporting opposition, several cordons of police and the Bolivarian National Guard prevented Guaido and other opposition deputies accompanying him from entering the AN building.
However, a small group of opposition lawmakers who have been criticized as being corrupt by the majority of the opposition were allowed through the cordons by the security forces.
In the hastily conducted session, Parra was elected amid a shouting match between Maduro supporters and certain Guaido-backing opposition lawmakers who had managed to enter the chamber.
Outside the building, and after having made it through all the police cordons except one, Guaido tried to enter the building, even climbing up on a fence to try and get through, but the authorities prevented him from going any farther and removed him by force.
A few minutes later, the opposition leader met with part of the diplomatic corps accredited to Venezuela, informing them how the security forces had prevented several dozen lawmakers from entering the building.
“Thank-you,” Guaido told the ambassadors, including the representative of France, Romain Nadal, and Apostolic Nuncio Aldo Giordano.
The diplomats had been invited by parliament to be present at the Sunday session and ha been among the guests within the chamber since early in the day.
Guaido’s representative in charge of Venezuela’s foreign relations, Julio Borges, said on his Twitter account that “the (Maduro) dictatorship without a quorum is swearing in an illegal and unconstitutional board of directors,” adding that “they don’t represent the Venezuelan people, it’s a maneuver to try and impose a group of accomplices of Maduro and his regime on the National Assembly.”
The Organization of American States Secretary-General Luis Almagro condemned the “acts of violence” and the AN vote, and the countries comprising the Lima Group – including Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile and others – rejected the result of the election in favor of Parra by condemning “the use of force by the dictatorial regime of Nicolas Maduro” to prevent deputies from “freely attending” the session.
The United States, one of the biggest critics of the Maduro regime, congratulated Guaido and condemned the Maduro regime’s “farcical vote” and Guaido’s access denial.
"I congratulate Juan Guaido on his re-election as president of the Venezuela National Assembly and condemn the failed efforts of the former Maduro Regime to negate the will of the democratically elected National Assembly," U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said. "Today, when the former Maduro regime realized the undemocratic campaign of bribery and intimidation failed to secure enough support in the National Assembly, they forcibly denied access to Juan Guaido and his supporters." "Maduro continues to ignore the constitution and will of the Venezuelan people," continued Pompeo. "Venezuela’s political parties came together in a resounding display of unity to support Juan Guaido’s re-election. Together, they provided Guaido with a clear margin of victory. The United States and 57 other countries continue to regard him as the legitimate leader of the National Assembly and thus the legitimate interim president of Venezuela. Juan Guaido personifies the Venezuelan people’s struggle to reclaim the prosperity and democracy they once enjoyed. No regime thugs, no jail cells, and no bribery or intimidation can subvert the will of the Venezuelan people.
The United States and democratic allies throughout the world remain committed to the Venezuelan people and their effort to end the brutal and inept dictatorship under which they live. The repression and poverty of Venezuela, which has already forced more than 15 percent of the population to flee the country, will begin to end only when democracy fully returns. We look forward to that day and recommit ourselves to supporting Interim President Guaido, the National Assembly, and free and fair elections,"
Brazil’s Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo stressed that his country will not recognize the result of the vote in which Parra was elected and in which the re-election of “Juan Guaido for the presidency of the AN and the interim government, crucial for the re-democratization of the country” were “forcibly” prevented.Along the same lines, the Colombian government, which is led by the right-wing Ivan Duque, said that the “result of the election process held by the executive body in a fraudulent manner ... will not be recognized by the Government of Colombia.”
Before the session, the police and the Bolivarian National Guard took control of areas near the Legislative Palace and drove off both Guaido and other deputies who accompanied him.
The Chilean Foreign Minister Teodoro Ribera lamented those incidents, which he described as “intimidating acts of the dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro against the democratically elected deputies and in full exercise of the AN.”
For Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno, the act also represented “an outrage” against Guaido and “a new example of the authoritarianism of the Maduro regime,” while the interim government of Bolivia, which assumed office after the resignation of Evo Morales, also rejected the “manipulation and intervention” in the Venezuelan Parliament and confirmed its support for Guaido.
Even previously Maduro-friendly Argentina condemned Sunday’s actions, with Foreign Minister Luis Felipe Sola saying: “preventing by force the functioning of the legislative assembly is to condemn oneself to international isolation. We reject this action and we call on the Venezuelan executive (Maduro) to accept the exactly opposite path. The Assembly must elect its President with total legitimacy”. If Sola meant business, that means Maduro has lost three key regional allies -- Argentina, Bolivia and Uruguay -- in four weeks.
Russia, however, stood by its communist ally. "We consider the election of the new leadership of parliament to be the result of a legitimate democratic procedure conducive to the return of the Venezuelan political struggle to the constitutional field," the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
"Never-the-less, the dueling National Assembly heads sets up the possibility of dueling National Assemblies, as happened today," said Russ Dallen, head of Caracas Capital. "Though the Guaido-led opposition has a majority, if the Maduro Regime is going to use force to continue to block the opposition from participating and sitting at the Legislative Palace, we are going to go further down this ridiculous rabbit-hole, made ever the more absurd by the existence of a third body -- the illegitimate Maduro-controlled Constituent Assembly."With Carlos Camacho in Caracas