Venezuela: As Socialists Shut Off Congress’ Lights, Lawmakers Hold Session Anyway

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a meeting with government workers in Caracas November 20, 2015. Venezuela's foreign income fell 64 percent this year due to the global fall in oil prices, President Nicolas Maduro said on Thursday. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

The members of Venezuela’s legislature, the National Assembly, arrived at work Thursday morning to find that the socialist government had shut the congressional building’s lights off and police were blockading their entry.

The head of the opposition in the legislature, Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) head Jesús Torrealba, confirmed that lawmakers were unable to get into the building Thursday morning, nor did it appear that they would have electricity if they did. “I am informing that they have cut the electricity in the Federal Legislative Palace and in the administrative building of the National Assembly,” Torrealba tweeted Thursday morning. He later also confirmed the blockade.

Nicolás Maduro, now officially branded by Torrealba’s branch of government as a dictator in violation of the Constitution, had deployed the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) and Caracas police to block the building’s entrance.

Maduro has used the police to prevent the legislature from doing its job in the past, most notably blocking popular opposition representative María Corina Machado from entering her office in the congressional building in 2014, attacking her with tear gas in addition to blocking entry.

The Venezuelan outlet El Estimulo reported that Maduro’s socialist government has organized a rally in the area surrounding the legislative headquarters on Thursday “in support of the Bolivarian revolution.” Hundreds of people had reportedly already congregated near the building for the rally, “hurling rocks into the National Assembly building.”

Shortly after 11 a.m., however, the official National Assembly Twitter account announced that the legislators were going forward with their scheduled session: a discussion on the legitimacy of the Maduro regime.

Con el quórum requerido inicia esta #SesiónAN

— Asamblea Nacional (@AsambleaVE) October 27, 2016

In a session last week, legislators voted to rule Maduro’s tenure no longer constitutionally valid, as Maduro’s election commission had dismissed a constitutionally permissible petition request for a recall presidential election. Maduro, the National Assembly declared, had violated the Constitution, and the nation was now in a state of coup d’etat. The legislature has banned the military from obeying Maduro’s orders, though the National Guard appears to be disregarding that decree.

The National Assembly has also summoned Maduro to appear for a hearing on November 1, 2016, the beginning of a public trial against him.

The anti-socialist opposition rallied thousands on Wednesday for a protest against Maduro; the government responded with violent beatings, tear gas, and rubber bullets. Maduro himself blamed the protests on U.S. President Barack Obama, whom he claimed was “lashing out at Venezuela” because his presidential term is nearly over.

Venezuelans have taken to the streets not at Obama’s behest, but to protest the growing lack of basic goods, including food and medicine, throughout the country. Maduro has implemented state rations and strict price controls that have left 15 percent of Venezuelans eating garbage to survive, and thousands unable to procure three healthy meals a day. Maduro has responded to criticism of the growing famine under his watch by joking that his “diet,” as Venezuelans refer to the famine, aids male sexual virility.