Government security forces and armed motorcycle groups loyal to Nicolás Maduro have forcefully blocked opposition lawmakers from entering Venezuela’s national assembly building, prompting them to hold their session on the outskirts of the nation’s crisis-torn capital.
It was the second time this month that lawmakers have been barred from the building that houses the only branch of government that remains out of control of Maduro’s socialist government.
The caravan of cars carrying the deputies dodged through downtown streets but ultimately failed in its attempt to reach the legislative chamber.
Gunshots could heard near the cars, but no injuries were reported. Two SUVs carrying the lawmakers came under attack by people on the street dressed in civilian clothes. They struck the rear window of one, shattering it.
The opposition leader Juan Guaidó called it an “ambush” carried out by the military and paramilitary groups armed by a “brutal and wild” dictatorship.
Guaidó was not in the caravan that attempted to enter the legislative building, but he later emerged with other lawmakers at a theater in the Caracas suburb of El Hatillo.
“Today, we clearly reject before the world this attack, this ambush against the Federal Palace,” Guaidó said, referring to the legislative building. “The dictatorship has clearly exposed itself to the world.”
The incident was part of a struggle for control of the opposition-dominated national assembly and Venezuela as a whole, a nation suffering economic and social collapse that has led an estimated 4.5 million to emigrate.
A once oil-wealthy nation, Venezuela has been locked in a political, economic and social collapse for the last five years. Basic medicines, food and gasoline are scarce, despite the fact Venezuela sits atop the world’s largest oil reserves.
The 36-year-old Guaidó leaped on to Venezuela’s political stage a year ago when he declared himself acting president under the constitution and vowed to end Maduro’s rule. The United States and more than 50 other nations quickly backed him, saying Maduro’s re-election in 2018 was illegitimate.
Increasing tension, the rival national constituent assembly, which is stacked with Maduro loyalists, held its session in a chamber within the same complex of government buildings in downtown Caracas, across from where the national assembly traditionally meets.
Leading the session, the socialist party chief, Diosdado Cabello, who is considered Venezuela’s most powerful man after Maduro, alluded to events playing out on the surrounding streets. “The center of Caracas is territory free of violence,” Cabello said. “It’s liberated territory.”
Critics say the constituent assembly was created to rubber-stamp socialist party policies as a way to circumvent the opposition-led national assembly.
The opposition lawmaker Delsa Solórzano said she was riding in a car with at least three other lawmakers that came under attack by men wielding rocks and sticks. She also reported hearing gunfire.
“Evidently, they tried to kill us,” Solórzano said. “Today, our parliament is practically kidnapped.”