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Guaido Welcomes Maduro’s Lawmakers Back to Venezuelan Assembly

Guaido Welcomes Maduro’s Lawmakers Back To Venezuelan Assembly

Juan Guaido in Caracas, Sept. 19. Photographer: Carlos Becerra/Bloomberg

  • In interview, he says a real dialogue could emerge in chamber

  • He denies accusation of associating with drug trafficking gang

Days after the collapse of negotiations between Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido, the nation is entering uncharted political waters: the government brought minor opposition parties into a new dialogue and said its own deputies will return to the toothless National Assembly presided over by Guaido.

Some saw these steps as further undermining Guaido and the international movement to recognize him over Maduro as Venezuela’s legitimate leader.

But on Thursday, Guaido characterized the events as a victory. He welcomed the deputies’ return, saying once they’re in the same chamber with him and his fellow lawmakers, it will elevate the body that the government has treated with contempt for the past few years.

“It seems like an opportunity to recognize me as president of the congress and to recognize that body as the only legitimate power, a step away from their rhetoric claiming congress is in contempt of the law,” the 36-year-old lawmaker said in an interview in his office in downtown Caracas.

Guaido says his proximity to socialist party lawmakers will make it easier to persuade them to join forces with him. Many of them have indicated that they want to take “a different route,” and it helps that they enjoy parliamentary immunity, he said.

Socialist party lawmakers abandoned the National Assembly two years ago, after the opposition won a majority and Maduro responded by creating a separate and more powerful body stacked with his supporters.

The National Assembly continued to meet, but its legislation was blocked and many of its members were persecuted or fled abroad.

Challenge, Reaction

In January, Guaido invoked the constitution to gain recognition as the nation’s legitimate leader, on the grounds that Maduro’s election had been rigged.

The U.S. immediately declared its support for him and has been followed by nearly 60 nations.

Guaido’s office has a sign saying “Office of the Presidency” on the wall, but his role as leader is still no more than symbolic. His movements are severely curtailed — he can’t get on an airplane and says he could be arrested at any time. His deputy, Edgar Zambrano, was recently released after four months in prison.

Ever-tighter U.S. sanctions on Maduro and his lieutenants, and an economic embargo on the government have failed to oust him.

Guaido has been under fire since Socialist Party Vice President Diosdado Cabello last week showed photos of Guaido accompanied by alleged members of the Rastrojos, a Colombian drug-trafficking gang.

Cabello said the photos were taken during Guaido’s trip to Colombia for a failed attempts to deliver humanitarian aid from the border town of Cucuta.

Guaido said he had only learned who the men were thanks to Cabello, and that the pictures are further proof that the government has ceded control of the region to guerrillas and mafia groups.

“That day we took many risks to go to Colombia in search of humanitarian aid,” Guaido said. “If anything, it shows that the state has totally lost control of the Colombian border.”

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