CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s authoritarian leader, Nicolás Maduro, moved Sunday to consolidate his grip on power by taking control of the country’s last independent institution and sidelining the lawmaker who had staked a rival claim to the presidency.
As Maduro’s security forces surrounded the National Assembly building, his supporters blocked the reelection of the opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, as the body’s head. That deprived Guaidó of the position that allowed him challenge to Maduro’s leadership.
By the end of a chaotic day, Venezuela’s political turmoil had somehow found a way to worsen.
The country already had two men who claim to be its rightful president and two rival legislatures. Now, one of the legislative bodies has two competing leaders.
That is because after Maduro backers elected their own man Sunday to lead the National Assembly, Guaidó’s supporters gathered at a newspaper’s headquarters, and in a dramatic roll call vote, reelected him to the leadership position.
The political chaos comes at a time when Venezuelans are facing economic collapse. Hunger is widespread, and millions have been forced to flee the country.
A year ago, Guaidó declared himself as head of a caretaker government, just two weeks after being elected head of the Assembly. Standing in the streets of Caracas with hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans, Guaidó asserted that Maduro’s 2018 election was fraudulent. Invoking an article of the Venezuelan Constitution that transfers power to the head of the Assembly if the presidency becomes vacant, he claimed the country’s leadership.
That claim was quickly recognized by dozens of foreign governments, including the U.S., which backed Guaidó’s effort to take power by imposing crippling sanctions on Maduro’s government.
But to maintain his claim the interim presidency, Guaidó needed to be reelected as head of the Assembly Sunday, according to analysts inside and outside the country.
But at the last minute, members of the National Guard prevented Guaidó and other supporters from entering the Assembly’s white-walled building.
Inside, Maduro’s party swore in as head of the Assembly a legislator named Luis Parra, a former member of the opposition who turned against Guaidó after the Assembly leader opened a corruption claim against him.