Venezuela's socialists take control of once-defiant congress

Parading giant portraits of Hugo Chavez and independence hero Simon Bolivar, allies of President Nicolas Maduro retook control of Venezuelas congress Tuesday, the last institution in the country it didnt already control.

The symbolic restoring of the images to Venezuelas parliament capped a celebratory day for the ruling socialist party in which they claimed to have avenged the humiliating defeat five years ago when government opponents won control of the legislature and proceeded to remove portraits of the two national icons in a fierce if futile challenge to Maduros lock on power.

Jorge Rodriguez, the incoming assembly president, vowed to “exorcise” from the legislative palace all vestiges of its previous occupants, who he accused of plotting from its neo-classical chamber Maduros violent overthrow with the help of foreign mercenaries and the Trump administration.

Just so there are no doubts, pretty soon well spray every corner of the parliamentary chambers with holy water, joked Rodriguez, who was previously led internationally sponsored talks with the opposition as well as met with envoys from the Trump administration.

Maduros allies swept legislative elections last month boycotted by the opposition and denounced as a sham by the US, the European Union and several other foreign governments. While the vote was marred by anemically low turnout, it nonetheless seemed to relegate into irrelevancy the US-backed opposition led by lawmaker Juan Guaido.

Exactly a year ago, Guaido, in a blue suit and tie, tried to scale a spiked iron fence to get past riot police blocking him from attending the parliaments inaugural session, which according to the constitution must be held every year on Jan 5.

A far cry from that electric display of defiance, Guaido held his own virtual parliamentary session Tuesday, via Zoom, with a cohort of opposition leaders.

They are trying to annihilate Venezuelas democratic force, Guaido said in his online address, which was overshadowed by the governments celebratory session in the legislature downtown. But we arent going to give up. Last month, anti-Maduro lawmakers, several dozen of them from exile, also gathered online to vote to extend their mandate stemming from a landslide victory in 2015 for another 12 months, operating through an adjunct committee normally reserved for legislative recesses.

Supreme Court justices loyal to Maduro immediately struck down that measure as invalid. But that hasnt stopped the Trump administration from doubling down in its support of Guaido.

We consider this group to be illegitimate and will not recognize it nor its pronouncements,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday, referring to the pro-Maduro assembly. President Guaido and the National Assembly are the only democratic representatives of the Venezuelan people as recognized by the international community, and they should be freed from Maduros harassment, threats, persecution, and other abuses.

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