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Story Publication logo January 8, 2020

In Venezuela, Dueling Parliaments Cast Political Crisis Into Further Chaos


PBS NewsHour covers the ongoing crisis in Venezuela. Image by PBS NewsHour. United States, 2019.

One year after the power struggle over Venezuela’s presidency, the country remains at a stalemate...

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Venezuela's political turmoil deepened Tuesday as supporters of President Nicolas Maduro tried to open a new session in the National Assembly without opposition members or their leader, Juan Guaido. Guaido managed to force his way into the parliament, but the confusion left Venezuelans unsure of which contingent is running their government. Special correspondent Marcia Biggs reports.

Judy Woodruff:

Political turmoil deepened today in Venezuela, as supporters of President Nicolas Maduro tried to open a new session in the National Assembly without opposition members or their leader, Juan Guaido.

The U.S. recognizes Guaido, not Maduro, as the rightful president of Venezuela.

Special correspondent Marcia Biggs reports from Caracas, with support from the Pulitzer Center.

Marcia Biggs:

Opposition leader Juan Guaido tried to force his way again today into the Parliament he is supposed to be running. When we arrived, opposition members were stuck outside, and supporters of President Nicolas Maduro had taken their seats.

On the agenda? Major items for a country in economic freefall, raising the roughly $5-a-month minimum wage, addressing the gasoline shortage, and what to do with political prisoners.

At the helm was Luis Parra, who on Sunday was elected as speaker in what many believe to be a sham vote.

"This is a farce. They don't have a quorum. They have paid people to sit in our seats," this opposition M.P. shouted.

"We are 120 members of Parliament who have the right to be here," shouted another.

Members of Parliament have been stuck outside while the new Parliament started the session without them. That includes Juan Guaido.

Suddenly, Guaido breached another entrance behind us, arriving at the gate and pulling his supporters inside. National Guard troops tried to fight him back, but he remained defiant.

Juan Guaido (through translator):

The leaders of the National Assembly are here. This is the session. Did you see a person running, running to hide because he can't face anyone, not the people, not anyone? The leadership is here.

Marcia Biggs:

Troops then tried to block the door to the Assembly. But the crowd pushed through, making its way into the hall and then taking a victory lap.

Members were just beginning the session when all of a sudden the lights went out.

Juan Guaido and his supporters have now stormed the National Assembly Palace and taken what they believe is their rightful place. They have started the congress. And, as you can see the empty seats here, the government supporters all left, cut the lights, cut the mic. They're now having to shout to be heard.

Undeterred, they continued on, swearing in Guaido as the new speaker of Parliament.

Juan Guaido (through translator):

Today, over this Constitution, we want to live, to be reborn, to speak no more of death, but instead of life in Venezuela.

Marcia Biggs:

Back in Washington, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo congratulated Guaido on his defiance in the face of Maduro's supporters.

Mike Pompeo:

The Maduro regime's campaign of arrests, intimidation and bribery could not derail Venezuelan democracy, nor could its use of military forces to physically bar the National Assembly from accessing the Parliament building.

Marcia Biggs:

But after Guaido left, Maduro's backers regrouped and reentered Parliament to have their own session and take their own victory lap.

All this leaving the Venezuelan people to wonder which one of these dueling parliaments and leaders is actually in power, and which one will address the country's dire economic problems.

For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Marcia Biggs in Caracas.





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