Showdown looms as Venezuela's opposition takes control of congress

CARACAS, Venezuela - Forget the ceremonial gavel passing and group photos. Venezuela's new congress, now dominated by opponents of the socialist administration, is being sworn in Tuesday amid duelling street demonstrations, mutual accusations of subverting democracy and a looming potential for violence.

See Full Article

With the seating of the newly elected National Assembly, it will be the first time in 17 years that opponents of the socialist revolution begun by the late President Hugo Chavez will control any institution in the South American country.

Incoming opposition lawmakers are promising to use their new muscle to make sweeping changes, while the socialist party of current President Nicolas Maduro has been equally adamant that the legislature will not be allowed to roll back Chavez's revolution.

The Supreme Court last week barred three opposition lawmakers from taking their seats, responding to a challenge by supporters of the socialists who accuse the opposition of stealing the Dec. 6 legislative election. That ruling could snatch away the opposition's two-thirds majority, which it will need to make any major move, such as firing top officials or rewriting the constitution.

On Monday, the incoming congress president, Henry Ramos, reiterated his promise to swear in all lawmakers and said Maduro should consider resigning to save Venezuela from a political crisis, echoing a call hard-liners made in 2014 when they launched a street protest movement that resulted in dozens of deaths.

"The people put their trust in us, and we can't just go home and knit booties to avoid conflict," the 72-year-old Ramos told reporters. "We must wield our power."

Such acerbic statements are a trademark of Ramos, a wily, pre-Chavez era politician whose promotion to the top spot in congress over a fresher face has exposed internal rifts that will dog the opposition.

The coalition's more moderate wing has lambasted the hard-liners' strategy of trying to force Maduro from office and wants to take pragmatic steps to wrench the oil-dependent economy out of a tailspin marked by triple-digit inflation and the world's deepest recession.

The factions have agreed on a basic agenda that includes granting amnesty to dozens of jailed leaders that human rights groups consider political prisoners, pushing for the release of central bank data and giving Maduro a six-month deadline to fall in line with the opposition's economic program.

Incoming lawmakers are also promising to use the National Assembly as a tool for accountability, holding investigative hearings and commissioning audits of government agencies.

Jennifer McCoy, a longtime observer of elections in Venezuela for the pro-democracy group founded by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, said the coming weeks will tell whether the government and opposition can put aside their mutual bloodthirst.

"This is the moment when both sides need to determine how to move forward: whether they are going to work together or engage in a battle royal," said McCoy, who is now director of the Global Studies Institute at Georgia State University

The socialists began fighting the new congress almost as soon as it was voted in. Outgoing lawmakers appointed new Supreme Court judges and changed the ownership of the National Assembly's TV station. Maduro on Monday issued decrees limiting congress' power over the central bank.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department said Monday that it was concerned by the Maduro government's attempts to interfere with the new congress, drawing a sharp rebuke from Venezuela's president.

The opposition planned a march to the National Assembly building Tuesday morning. The downtown district in the shadow of the presidential palace rarely sees opposition rallies and is newly covered with pro-government graffiti.

Maduro was conciliatory in a national television address Monday, saying he had instructed the military to guarantee the opposition access to the neoclassical National Assembly building downtown so it can be seated peacefully.

But pro-government militias, dubbed by Chavez as "the armed wing of the revolution," called on their supporters to stage a counter protest, raising the threat of clashes.

"The revolution must be defended in the streets," read one pro-government call circulated Monday. "A bourgeoisie congress will never do anything but legislate the slavery of the people."

-----

Associated Press writer Joshua Goodman in Bogota contributed to this report.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Reserve declares state of emergency after third teen suicide

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    Jenera Roundsky was just 12. On June 13, she texted a friend to say farewell - and then she killed herself. Jenera was the third girl to kill herself in recent days on the Wapekeka First Nation - northwest of Thunder Bay. Source
  • Police say security 'climate,' not specific threat, prompted weapons upgrade

    Canada News CTV News
    OTTAWA -- City police officers patrolling the airport in the nation's capital are getting military-style rifles, but officials say the move wasn't prompted by any specific security threats. Rather, police say, the issuance of carbine rifles to officers at Ottawa International Airport will simply provide a higher degree of safety for travellers. Source
  • Crime afoot? Severed toe used in famous Yukon cocktail goes missing

    Canada News CTV News
    The bad news: a severed toe used as a garnish in a famous cocktail served in a Yukon bar has gone missing. The good news: the bar has two back-ups. The Sourtoe Cocktail has been served at the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City since 1973, after a captain found a severed digit in an abandoned cabin. Source
  • Suspected Flint terrorist hated America: Cops

    World News Toronto Sun
    Amor Ftouhi has an allegedly deep-rooted hatred for America. And on Wednesday, that rage exploded in an airport in Flint, Mich., when the Montreal father of three stabbed a police officer in the neck with a combat knife. Source
  • Chile declassifies files revealing Nazi plot to destroy Panama Canal

    World News CTV News
    SANTIAGO, Chile -- The Chilean equivalent of the FBI declassified World War II-era files on Thursday that show Nazi agents in the South American country's main port of Valparaiso plotted to destroy the Panama Canal. Source
  • Wannabe black widow Dippolito guilty in murder-for-hire

    World News Toronto Sun
    A wannabe Florida black widow who hoped to take her hubby off the board for boffo insurance bucks has been found guilty. Dalia Dippolito, 34, had been accused of hiring a Boynton beach cop posing as a hitman to kill her husband. Source
  • NDP leadership candidates debate labour issues and the economy in Toronto

    Canada News CBC News
    The five candidates running to be the next leader of the federal New Democratic Party are debating one another in Toronto tonight in an event hosted by the United Steelworkers union. The debate, while not one of the party's official debates, is the only debate between the candidates being held in Toronto and is focusing on the themes of the economy and labour. Source
  • ‘Pizzagate’ ends with 4 year prison sentence for gunman

    World News Toronto Sun
    WASHINGTON — An online conspiracy theory dubbed “pizzagate” ended Thursday with real-world consequences when a North Carolina man was sentenced to prison for arming himself with an assault rifle, travelling to the nation’s capital and firing his weapon inside a neighbourhood pizza restaurant. Source
  • Juror: Cosby panel was concerned about 'politics' of case

    World News CTV News
    PITTSBURGH -- A juror in Bill Cosby's sexual assault trial said Thursday that some jurors were concerned that prosecutors waited 10 years to charge him, expressing suspicion that politics had played a role in the case. Source
  • Britax recalls over 207K infant seats due to choking hazard

    Canada News CTV News
    DETROIT -- Britax Child Safety is recalling over 207,000 rear-facing infant car seats because part of a clip can break and cause a choking hazard. The recall affects B-Safe 35, B-Safe 35 Elite and BOB B-Safe 35 seats made from Nov. Source