Lawmaker María Corina Machado (pictured) made her way back to work Tuesday after the Venezuelan legislature’s president, Diosdado Cabello, stripped her of her elected position and the legislative immunity that comes with it. Venezuelan troops, in response, attacked her and the thousands behind her with teargas, blocking her way.
In a dramatic saga playing out on Twitter, as the repressive socialist Venezuelan government blocked media outlets from covering the occasion, Machado organized a protest in the Caracas neighborhood of Chacaito to announce her plans to defy a government order that keeps her out of office. Cabello officially ousted her from the legislature after her trip to Washington, D.C., where Machado attempted to persuade members of the Organization of American States to intervene in the violent situation in Venezuela.
She told the crowd joining her there, estimated to be in the thousands, that she would return to the National Assembly despite being stripped of her title by Cabello because it was “the highest honor a citizen can be given, to represent the people,” and that “only the people can take that from me.” Machado was accompanied by Lilian Tintori, the wife of Popular Will party leader Leopoldo López, who has become the nation’s most famous political prisoner.
As Machado mounted a motorcycle to ride to the National Assembly, the protesters began to follow, which prompted a teargas attack from the National Guard. It is yet unknown how many were injured in the repressive scuffle, but Infobae reports that Machado herself was hit with the toxic gas and published a photo uploaded to Twitter by BBC reporter Daniel Pardo.
Machado, recién lanzado el primer gas lacrimógeno. pic.twitter.com/ksxbo9EljN
– Daniel Pardo (@pardodaniel) April 1, 2014
Machado nonetheless took to the National Assembly, where she was greeted by a wall of National Guard troops preventing her from going to her congressional office. After several minutes of mixed reports from protesters in the area that Machado had been attacked and arrested, the BBC reported that Machado had not been aggrieved, but was not giving up on her mission to return to her post at the Assembly. Machado then boarded her motorcycle and turned to the Venezuelan Supreme Court, where she told the media she would appeal the decision to remove her from her post. “All avenues must be exhausted,” she told the BBC.
Machado is the most prominent member of the Venezuelan opposition not currently in jail, as her position in the National Assembly made provided her legislative immunity until Cabello stripped her of her title. Machado has been struggling against the Chavista government for years, most prominently having her nose broken and sent into surgery after a Chavista legislator physically assaulted her on the floor of the National Assembly last year (graphic video of the attack here). Nancy Ascencio, the congresswoman who broke Machado’s nose, attacked her at an airport once again later that year.
President Maduro has warned in recent weeks that he is shifting in focus from repressing student protests to arresting public officials who disagree with him. In addition to Machado’s ouster, Maduro arrested three unnamed generals for “organizing a coup” and two mayors of opposition cities for conspiring against the government. A report released Monday estimated that the Venezuelan government has been arresting one protester every half hour since the arrest of Leopoldo López on February 18.