CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s congress will vote for new leadership on Sunday with the opposition party hoping to re-elect Juan Guaido, who has been recognized by more than 50 nations as the country’s legitimate president.
Guaido, facing a heavy pressure campaign by the government of President Nicolas Maduro, has accused the ruling Socialist Party of offering legislators suitcases of cash to vote against his second term as the head of the National Assembly.
A victory for Guaido would allow the opposition to continue pressuring for the exit of Maduro, who has become a pariah among Western nations for undermining democracy and overseeing a spectacular economic collapse of a once prosperous nation.
But state officials appeared to be doing everything possible to impede the vote, with police and troops blocking an avenue that leads toward the assembly and preventing a group of opposition legislators from entering.
“Neither the dictatorship nor the state’s repressive apparatus decides who can get in,” said Guaido, standing at a police barricade a block from congress, insisting he will not enter the legislative palace until all others are allowed in.
Troops for more than an hour reviewed the credentials of each lawmaker, in what critics called a strategy to delay the session or prevent the assembly from reaching quorum.
As of the early afternoon, several lawmakers said they were still unable to enter. State television showed footage of Socialist Party legislators passing quickly through security cordons.
Last month, the legislature changed its internal procedures to allow lawmakers to vote virtually in efforts to allow the participation of those who cannot be physically present.
The opposition sees that as a last resort, in part because the change was struck down by the supreme court.
Maduro calls Guaido a puppet of the United States, and says the country’s economic problems are the result of Washington’s sanctions program that restricts U.S. companies from buying the OPEC nation’s oil exports or doing business with the government.
But he has hung on to power despite low approval ratings and a year-long effort by the Trump administration to force him from power.
The opposition says that about 30 opposition legislators are in exile or in hiding due to judicial proceedings, most of which are associated a failed military uprising in April.
The government in December approved legal proceedings against four opposition lawmakers accused of treason and conspiracy.
Opposition party Popular Will in December said a special forces police detained lawmaker Gilber Caro and one of his assistants in Caracas.
Writing by Brian Ellsworth; editing by Diane Craft