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On Sunday the 6th of January, Venezuela’s socialist government installed a new head of Congress, after armed troops blocked opposition legislators from entering parliament, Reuters reports. Troops armed with riot shields blocked opposition leader Juan Guaido from entering parliament for what was expected to be his re-election as head of Congress. With Guaido not present, Nicolas Maduro’s ruling government were able to hand the post to Luis Parra, who was expelled from the First Justice opposition party in late 2019 due to corruption allegations, which he has denied.
Opposition legislators on Sunday spent most of their time attempting to make their way past checkpoints in Caracas, where police and soldiers hindered their advance towards the Congress building. Due to the inability of opposition legislators to make their way to Congress, an impromptu vote was pushed forward by the current government legislators. Reuters reports that this vote was held through a show of hands, but without counting each individual vote, as is required by its regulations.
In reaction to the forced blockade and their inability to partake in the procedure, opposition legislators held a separate session at an opposition newspaper’s headquarters, where they re-elected Guaido as head of Congress, garnering 100 votes out of 167. Guaido has been recognised as the legitimate leader of Venezuela by the United States, the European Union and a dozen Latin American countries, yet current President Nicolas Maduro has so far maintained his control of power, due to support from the nation’s military and support from international actors such as Russia, China and Cuba.
Reuters reports that since his expulsion, Luis Parra has been extremely critical of Guaido and has described himself and other legislators as being in “rebellion”. The United States has reaffirmed their position supporting Guaido as the legitimate leader of Venezuela, with U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday night congratulating Guaido on his re-election. Pompeo stated, “I congratulate Juan Guaido on his re-election … and condemn the failed efforts of the former Maduro regime to negate the will of the democratically elected National Assembly.” In addition, Argentina, the Lima Group, a group of Latin American nations seeking political change in Venezuela, as well as European Union members have condemned the move by Maduro to seize power over Congress.
The move by Maduro has further shown his willingness to subvert democratic processes in favour of consolidating power for his own purposes. The persistent and extreme degradation of political and civil liberties within Venezuela by Maduro and his ruling government has led to one of the most acute humanitarian crises today, with Human Rights Watch estimating that over 80% of households in Venezuela face serious food insecurity. The government’s latest move to install Parra as head of Congress is a blatant misuse and subversion of democratic processes, yet may cause more issues for the opposition to oust Maduro. With two competing heads of Congress in play, both claiming the same level of legitimacy, the groundswell of support garnered by Guaido in mid-2018 may be stalled by this deadlocked political environment even more so than it has been. This spells even worse news for the citizens of Venezuela who as stated by Freedom House are “suffering from a worsening humanitarian and financial crisis characterized by acute food and medicine shortages, historically high hyperinflation, and rampant crime.”
The number one priority of the Venezuelan political community must be to put all efforts into alleviating the suffering of ordinary Venezuelan citizens. A fair, open and reliable democratic election must be put into place, as to truly hear the voices of the population. The international community must put their support behind Juan Guaido and the opposition political parties in Venezuela, and resources must be given in an attempt to relinquish power from Nicolas Maduro’s grip.