A fight broke out on the floor of the Venezuelan National Assembly after pro-Maduro government loyalists tried to bar the opposition lawmakers from legislative activities.
Opposition lawmakers refuse to accept the narrow victory of President Nicolas Maduro over Henrique Capriles on April 14. They believe the government’s 1.49 percent margin was a fraud and claim that the names of thousands of deceased people were discovered on the presidential voting rolls.
Maduro, seen as the political heir to Hugo Chavez, has support from “Chavistas” in the assembly. Those government loyalists have stripped the opposition of much of their legislative power in an attempt to silence dissent. The loyalist-dominated assembly has barred the opposition from public speaking and from serving on legislative committees.
Tuesday night the opposition protested this measure, and a brawl ensued. Opposition member Ismael Garcia claimed the government loyalists threw the first punch. The opposition claims 17 of its allies and five pro-government deputies were injured.
Opposition assemblyman Julio Borges later appeared on independent television battered and bloodied.
On Tuesday, head of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela Pedro Carreno asked the assembly to extend a ban on the opposition’s public speaking.
The opposition then unrolled a banner that read “coup against the parliament.”
Garcia said that’s when loyalists attacked the opposition from behind.
Carreno claimed loyalists fought only in self-defense. “If I’m standing here and you come to attack me, it’s likely that I’ll react, but it’s the aggressor who went out with a black eye,” he said.
President Maduro blames the opposition for the violence that erupted Tuesday. Maduro himself was quoted telling state television that he planned to use an “iron fist” against any coup attempts or political opponents who would destabilize the nation.
National Assembly Chief Diosdado Cabello, who has ties to both the business community and the army, said he will withhold the salaries of opposition members until they agree to submit to Maduro. He said that the opposition refusing to accept the validity of the election results not only casts doubt on the electoral system but casts doubt on their own legitimacy.
Maduro is no relation to the deceased Chavez, although when Maduro ran for election he claimed, "I am not Chavez, but I am his son." Opposition leader Henrique Capriles has asked for a full audit of the April election results.
Loyalists and opposition lawmakers will take to the street Wednesday for International Workers’ Day and allegedly are attempting to avoid confrontation by holding celebrations in separate areas.