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Venezuela's socialists inaugurate congress

January 5, 2021

A new Venezuelan parliament dominated by ruling socialists has been inaugurated, consolidating President Nicolas Maduro's grip. Out of a job as speaker, opposition head Juan Guido vowed to chair rival sessions online.

Venezuelan MPs carry images of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and independence hero Simon Bolivar as they enter parliament
Incoming MPs carried images of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and independence hero Simon Bolivar as they entered the National AssemblyImage: Matias Delacroix/AP/picture alliance

President Nicolas Maduro's socialists took their 256 seats in Venezuela's 277-seat National Assembly at its inauguration Tuesday, snuffing five years of opposition hopes of holding on to seats taken by landslide back in 2015.

Congress' replacement head Jorge Rodrigez claimed the Socialist Party had won a "constitutional mandate" in December's election. The vote was boycotted by the party of opposition leader Juan Guido, who in 2019 proclaimed himself interim president rivaling Maduro.

Guido, backed by the outgoing US Trump administration and some 50 nations, held a rival parliamentary session online on Tuesday — incorporating exiled anti-Maduro lawmakers. He vowed to launch a "diplomatic offensive" to negate the socialist-held congress.

A tweet from Guido's team said police had surrounded his Caracas house as congress' oldest member Fernando Soto Rojas declared the new assembly constituted. It had been the last major institution not yet grasped by Maduro.

Juan Guaido
Police surrounded the home of opposition leader Juan Guaido as parliament's inaugural session took placeImage: Matias Delacroix/AP/picture alliance

While Maduro extends his grip on power, including Venezuela's military with ties to Cuba, Russia and Iran, Guido's ally Gaby Arellano said she foresaw a new round of repression.

"We're at the start of what looks like a very dark, new phase," said Arellano.

Leading Maduro's socialist bloc in parliament will be party boss Diosdado Cabello, who is widely seen as the second most-powerful figure in Venezuela.

Political scientist Benigno Alarcon from Venezuela's Andres Bello Catholic University told the French news agency AFP that he did not think Guido's bid to uphold a duality of power would continue much longer.

Apathy spreads in Venezuela

Maduro had "control of the country through force," said Bello, now extending to all state institutions, underscored by the opposition's failure to muster large numbers for protests around the December 6 election.

Incoming US President-elect Joe Biden has repeatedly labeled Maduro a dictator but has not laid out detailed policy on how he plans to deal with oil-rich Venezuela.

In December, when only 31% of the country's 20 million eligible voters turned out, the EU slammed the election as undemocratic, while the US and the Lima Group of American countries called for an international rejection of the declared returns.

ipj/nm (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)