Hopes for dialogue between Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and the opposition-controlled National Assembly evaporated just minutes after the new legislature was sworn in on Tuesday, January 5. In a dispute over a procedural matter, pro-Maduro legislators walked out.
These legislators, who belong to Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), rose to leave just as the assembly’s majority leader, Julio Borges, was detailing the opposition’s legislative agenda, including an amnesty law to free political prisoners. Borges was not shaken as PSUV legislators exited amid catcalls and insults. “The people elected us to make a change,” Borges said. “And that is what we are going to do.”
Few analysts predicted a smooth transition from the PSUV, which lost its legislative majority for the first time in 17 years and now holds 54 seats to the opposition Democratic Unity’s 109. However, the speed at which yesterday’s rupture occurred surprised many.
The events have lowered expectations (which were already fairly low) that Democratic Unity would be able to follow up on much of its ambitious platform. In addition to the amnesty law, Borges has said that the opposition would also press for a law that would give people who have received public housing the title to their apartments or houses and for legislation that would increase benefits for senior citizens.
He also aims to rejuvenate the national economy, which was estimated to have contracted by ten percent last year, by returning companies nationalized by the government to their previous owners and by overhauling currency controls. Massive shortages of food, medicine, and spare parts have forced Venezuelans to pass hours each day in long lines in search of hard-to-find products.
Even if it will be hard to follow through on those promises, there were at least some cosmetic changes at yesterday’s session. For the first time in years, journalists from the international and national press corps were allowed inside the assembly to cover the event. Previously, only journalists from government organs were allowed
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