Venezuela’s Maduro set to extend grip on power as party prepares to take congress

Nicolas Maduro was set to extend his grip on power Tuesday as the ruling socialist party prepared to assume the leadership of Venezuela’s congress, the last institution in the country it didn’t already control.

Maduro’s allies swept legislative elections last month boycotted by the opposition and denounced as a sham by the U.S., 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 U.S.-backed opposition led by 37-year-old lawmaker Juan Guaido.

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

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A far cry from that electric display of defiance, Guaido was expected to meet via Zoom with a cohort of opposition leaders for their own virtual parliamentary session.

Last month, anti-Maduro lawmakers, several dozen of them from exile, also gathered online 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 the law as invalid. But that hasn’t stopped the Trump administration from doubling down in its support of Guaido.

“The national parliament will not be detained until there are free elections in Venezuela,” Guaido said on Twitter recently.

State of the Union 2020: Venezuela’s Juan Guaido receives standing ovation

State of the Union 2020: Venezuela’s Juan Guaido receives standing ovation – Feb 4, 2020

While Guaido’s bravery hasn’t wavered, the opposition’s political fortunes have tanked as Venezuelans own hopes for change have collapsed. Recent opinion polls show support for Guaido having fallen by more than half since he first rose to challenge Maduro two years ago.

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Meanwhile, Maduro has managed to retain a solid grip on power and the military, the traditional arbiter of political disputes.

Gaby Arellano, a lawmaker exiled in Colombia, said that many in the opposition underestimated Maduro, thinking he stood no chance in a doomsday economic environment marked by hyperinflation, miles-long lines for gasoline and pulverized wages measured adding up to a few pennies per month.

But he’s managed to out-manoeuvre his foes through a mix of repression and co-optation exacerbated by the opposition’s own missteps, Arellano said. She expects a new round of repression now that Maduro has seized congress. On Tuesday, Guaido blasted on Twitter photos of what he said were security forces surrounding his apartment building in Caracas. The AP was unable to confirm the reports.

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Venezuela’s Guaido enters legislative palace after standoff with troops – Jan 7, 2020