This Tuesday, Venezuelan opposition lawmakers forced their way through National Guard and paramilitary roadblocks and entered the building of the National Assembly to reclaim control of the body. The move came two days after loyalists of President Nicolás Maduro sought to take over what is considered to be the country’s last democratic institution.
Led by opposition leader Juan Guaidó, lawmakers entered the building after a pro-government group fled for safety. Once inside, Guaidó presided over a session that rejected the “illegal takeover” of the chamber on Sunday and ratified his new term as president of the National Assembly.
The electricity was cut off during the session, forcing lawmakers to use the lights of their cellphones to continue the meeting. Not all lawmakers made it inside. Those stuck outside were said to be assaulted, along with journalists, by colectivos, Venezuelan paramilitary groups. After the meeting, officials said at least four lawmakers were wounded.
Two National Assembly leaders
On Sunday, pro-Maduro legislators took siege of the National Assembly building in a move that was seen as a “parliamentary coup” designed to take control of the last democratic institution in Venezuela. With the legislative body set to elect a new speaker, and Guaidó’s designation as interim president resting on him being Speaker of the National Assembly, Maduro sought to place an ally at its head.
A military blockade barred opposition lawmakers from entering the legislative building—footage shows Guaidó attempting to climb over the fence of the building only to be pushed back by security forces. Inside, the scenes were just as chaotic as government supporters elected dissident opposition lawmaker Luis Parra as speaker of the body. The election was held despite not having enough lawmakers for a quorum. Unable to enter the building, opposition lawmakers gathered in a separate location and with 100 votes re-elected Guaidó as head of the Assembly.
For his part, Luis Parra—who is still recognized by Maduro as the Speaker of the Assembly— is a former ally of Guaidó who was expelled from the Justice First party in December over corruption allegations. He is accused by the opposition of accepting bribes to lobby in favor of Colombian businessman Alex Saab, who is sanctioned by the U.S. government under allegations that he runs a corruption network for President Nicolás Maduro.
The weekend’s events made global headlines, here is what some international governments had to say:
The United States
The U.S. largely condemned the events of January 5. Michael Kozak, acting assistant secretary for the Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs took to Twitter to express the U.S.’s support for Guaidó, “[Guaidó] remains Venezuela’s interim president under its constitution.”
According to Reuters, two sources familiar with the matter said the administration of President Donald Trump is considering sanctions against some of the Venezuelan lawmakers who took part in Maduro’s plan, including Luis Parra. In the weeks leading up to the election, the U.S. and Venezuela’s opposition accused Maduro of trying to block Guaidó’s re-election by bribing and harassing lawmakers.
Some Democratic candidates seeking the party’s presidential nomination expressed their condemnation over the National Assembly takeover, via Twitter. Former Vice President Joe Biden called Maduro a dictator and strongly condemned “his regime’s violent takeover of the Venezuelan National Assembly, the country’s sole remaining democratic institution.” South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg also called Maduro a dictator and backed “Juan Guaidó and the Venezuelan people as they strive to reclaim their democracy and defend their rights.”
On Monday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the election of Luis Parra as speaker of the National Assembly was a democratic procedure. Russia continues to be a key financial and political ally to the Maduro regime.
Last week, Russian Deputy Finance Minister Sergey Storchak said Moscow was waiting for Guaidó to leave office before sending economic advisors to Venezuela to help the regime tackle its economic crisis. He noted that Russia’s efforts to ease the crisis have been unsuccessful because officials in Venezuela have been reluctant to implement changes without support from the opposition-led National Assembly. Storchak said that while advisers would help address the solvency of the country’s national currency, its banking sector and social issues, its main focus was Venezuela’s oil sector.
Following the events on Sunday, Peter Stano, the European Union’s spokesperson for external affairs called the move by the Maduro government as “unacceptable.” In a statement released the same day, Stano says the move “constitutes a new step in the deterioration of the Venezuelan crisis,” and the EU continues to support and recognize Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader until the conditions for a proper election can be assured.
On Monday the Lima Group supported the re-election of Juan Guadió as head of the National Assembly and condemned the government’s “force and intimidation tactics.” The statement was signed by Bolivia (which joined the group following the resignation of President Evo Morales), Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, and Peru. Mexico and Argentina did not sign.
Following the events on Sunday, Mexico’s Foreign Ministry urged the Venezuelan government to allow the Speaker of the National Assembly be democratically elected in accordance with the country’s constitution.
Although restrained, Mexico’s response contrasts its usual position of non intervention. Since President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office in 2018, his government has sworn it would not get involved in the internal and sovereign matters of other countries and would not disavow foreign governments.
With newly elected President Alberto Fernández and Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Argentina has been walking a fine line on its policy toward Venezuela. Although Fernández’s administration said Maduro’s actions were “unacceptable” and “a new obstacle to the full functioning rule of law,” it did not sign the Lima Group’s statement condemning those actions.
To make matters worse, on Tuesday, the Argentine Foreign Ministry said it no longer recognized Guaidó as president of Venezuela and revoked the credentials of Elisa Trotta Gamus, his representative in Argentina. Trotta was granted diplomatic credentials in April under former President Mauricio Macri.