In Venezuela, dueling parliaments cast political crisis into further chaos


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, Opposition Leader, Venezuela
(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, U.S. Secretary of State: 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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