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

  • Woman pleads guilty in slaying of another woman outside Vancouver nightclub [Photos]

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    VANCOUVER - A young woman who was charged in connection with the fatal attack of another woman outside a downtown Vancouver nightclub last year has pleaded guilty to manslaughter. During a brief appearance in Vancouver Provincial Court Wednesday, Samantha Nadine Doolan, 30, entered her plea in relation to the slaying of Lauren Lindsay McLellan, 28, near the Caprice Nightclub in the Granville entertainment district. Source
  • Video: Horrifying moment State Fair ride breaks apart, killing one and leaving seven more injured

    World News Toronto Sun
    COLUMBUS, Ohio — A swinging and spinning amusement park ride called the Fire Ball broke apart on the opening day of the Ohio State Fair on Wednesday, hurling people through the air, killing at least one and injuring seven others. Source
  • His future clouded, Sessions opens mission to El Salvador

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Jeff Sessions is flying to El Salvador to talk about gang violence, with his future as the nation's top prosecutor still in doubt. He left Thursday after a week of blistering public scorn from President Donald Trump about Sessions' performance. Source
  • N.S. police chief facing sex charges to appear in court

    Canada News CTV News
    BRIDGEWATER, N.S. - The case of a Nova Scotia police chief facing several sex charges involving a 17-year-old girl is due in court today. A lawyer for John Collyer was in Bridgewater provincial court last month when the case was adjourned for election and plea. Source
  • Foxconn plans massive $10B plant in Wisconsin to make LCD screens

    World News CBC News
    Electronics giant Foxconn will build a $10 billion US factory in Wisconsin that's expected to initially create 3,000 jobs, the largest economic development project in state history, U.S. President Donald Trump says. The announcement Wednesday came as the Trump administration, which had pledged to generate manufacturing jobs, struggled to deliver results as quickly as the president promised. Source
  • 'They ain't hurtin' nobody': N.S. man told to get rid of pet pigs

    Canada News CBC News
    Einstein and Winstin are "good boys." They like to play with their toys. They love apples and belly rubs. They used a litter box when they were little and slept in dog beds indoors. Noah Graves even bottle-fed the two Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs when they were tiny, squirming, snorting babies. Source
  • Toronto Islands set to reopen after severe spring flooding

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- The waterlogged Toronto Islands will finally reopen to the public on July 31. The popular tourist destination and home to hundreds of city residents was virtually shut down in early May after flooding caused by rising water levels in Lake Ontario, brought on in part by heavy rains. Source
  • Muslim leaders tell faithful to return to Jerusalem shrine

    World News CTV News
    JERUSALEM -- Muslim leaders told the faithful to return to pray inside a major Jerusalem holy site on Thursday after Israel removed security devices it installed outside entrances to the shrine following a deadly Palestinian attack at the compound. Source
  • Charges expected after woman dies on Alaska cruise ship

    World News CTV News
    ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Federal authorities planned to announce charges Thursday in what was described as a domestic dispute aboard a cruise ship in U.S. waters off Alaska that led to the death of a 39-year-old Utah woman. Source
  • Inmates' escape video shows everything is caught on tape

    World News CTV News
    SANTA ANA, Calif. -- In an age when everything else is captured for public consumption on a smartphone, why not your own jailbreak? Inmates who broke out of the maximum-security wing of a Southern California jail last year did just that with a smuggled cellphone and through an attorney released it to the public Wednesday, complete with glossy voiceover from one of the convicts. Source