Scuffles, Tear Gas and Doused Lights: Venezuela’s National Assembly Opens for Business

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Juan Guaido, Venezuela's opposition leader, outside the National Assembly building in Caracas, Jan. 5, 2020. In a chaotic session in which security forces surrounded the National Assembly building, intimidating members of the opposition who tried to enter, supporters of Nicolas Maduro blocked the re-election of Guaido as the bodyÕs head, and named another legislator instead. (Adriana Loureiro Fernandez/The New York Times)

Ana Vanessa Herrero and Julie Turkewitz

c.2020 The New York Times Company

 

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s National Assembly erupted into chaos Tuesday as opposition lawmakers took their seats to begin the new year’s session, but only after forcing their way through a phalanx of government soldiers.

National Guardsmen in body armor initially prevented Juan Guaidó, the leader of the country’s opposition, from entering the building along with his supporters.

“Here the people rule!” the legislators cried as they pushed through the heavy wooden doors and installed Guaidó at the front of the assembly’s main hall.

It was an exceptionally turbulent morning, even for a nation that is becoming increasingly accustomed to high-stakes political drama. And it did little to resolve Venezuela’s political tumult: The country, which is facing a worsening humanitarian crisis, has two men claiming the presidency and two men claiming the leadership of the assembly.

On Tuesday, the legislature’s first meeting of the year deteriorated into a melee in which, according to Guaidó’s press office, four opposition legislators were injured. The National Guard also launched tear gas at Guaidó and other opposition members as they made their way to the building.

With the lights of the chamber out, Guaidó stood at front of the assembly hall, taking the oath as head of legislature, and opening the year’s legislative session.

But he fled through the basement, along with some legislators and reporters, when members of colectivos — the armed civilians band that backs the government and is known for violence — were allowed into the building.

It was the second time Tuesday that a self-proclaimed assembly president opened a legislative session only to flee the building.

In the early morning, Guaidó’s rival, Luis Parra, launched assembly proceedings, but left before the opposition lawmakers pushed their way in.

The confrontation Tuesday followed a weekend in which Venezuela’s opposition accused forces loyal to the country’s authoritarian president, Nicolás Maduro, of staging a takeover of the assembly in a bid to consolidate Maduro’s grip on the country.