CARACAS – Venezuela’s opposition confirmed Juan Guaido on Tuesday for a second term as National Assembly speaker and swore him in once again as Venezuela’s interim head of state, a pair of moves that came after he and other lawmakers forced their way past security forces and into the legislative palace.
Those actions represent the opposition’s latest challenge to Venezuela’s leftist incumbent Nicolas Maduro, who first took office in 2013 upon the death of his mentor Hugo Chavez and remains firmly in power despite calls by the United States and its allies for him to step down and make way for new elections.
It also comes two days after Guaido – who a year ago became the National Assembly’s speaker and shortly thereafter swore in as acting president – and his legislative allies were barred by security forces from attending a legislative session in which another “opposition” lawmaker, Luis Parra, said he had been elected as the new head of that unicameral legislature.
Parra, who heads a minority faction in the legislature, recently was expelled by a leading opposition party known as Justice First amid corruption allegations that he denies.
Parra, who subsequently withdrew his support for Guaido, was backed in Sunday’s session by Maduro’s ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).
Detractors of Parra said that the Sunday session in which a new parliamentary leadership was installed was illegitimate due to the lack of a quorum.
Guaido, meanwhile, was re-elected head of the National Assembly that same day in a vote that was held at the offices of a Caracas newspaper.
The initiative to swear in Guaido once again as interim head of state was proposed by lawmaker Carlos Berrizbeitia and backed by more than 100 anti-Maduro members of the National Assembly, according to a tally by the opposition.
“In the name of those who today are voiceless, of those mothers who cry for their children living far away ... in the name of Venezuela, I swear to comply with the duties of interim president and seek a solution to the crisis in order to live with dignity,” Guaido said with his right hand on the constitution.
On Jan. 23, 2019, Guaido declared Maduro’s 2018 re-election a fraud and took oath as Venezuela’s legitimate head of state.
The opposition based that decision on its interpretation of several articles of the South American nation’s charter that state that executive power rests in the hands of National Assembly speaker in the event of the “absolute absence” of a constitutional president.
Guaido has been recognized since then by the US and roughly 60 other countries as interim president, although he does not control the bureaucracy or armed forces, which have publicly declared their support for Maduro and rejected the opposition’s overtures.
Maduro, who is still backed by China, Russia and dozens of other countries, sidelined the National Assembly by creating a plenipotentiary body, the National Constituent Assembly, in 2017.
Before Guaido and his supporters forced their way into the legislative palace, Parra presided over a session Tuesday in which lawmakers debated the scarcity of gasoline in the oil-rich country, which has been racked for years by a severe economic crisis.
Parra and his legislative allies had already left the building, known in Venezuela as the Capitolio, before Guaido entered.
Guaido later told reporters that the session presided over by Parra was illegitimate because the minimum number of National Assembly members needed – 84 – were not present.
While the session led by Guaido was taking place, several journalists, including a correspondent for Spanish daily El Pais, Francesco Manetto, were victims of aggression outside the Parliament by alleged supporters of Maduro, a Venezuelan press workers’ union said.
“Armed groups attacked, robbed and beat journalists Francesco Manetto” of El Pais and Manuel Cobela of private channel Venevision, the National Press Workers’ Union (SNTP) said on Twitter. “They stole their equipment and personal documents.”
The SNTP said at least five other press workers were attacked by armed civilians who are backers of Maduro’s regime.
That union has disseminated videos that show some of the alleged aggressions, including actions targeting Venezuelan journalists Ana Rodriguez and Maiker Yriarte, who managed to fend off an attempted robbery.