Venezuelan police on Tuesday blocked a top opposition lawmaker from returning to the legislature to retake her seat and fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of her supporters.
In a direct challenge to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Maria Corina Machado, a member of the Venezuelan National Assembly, had vowed to attend the legislative session, despite her removal from office being confirmed on Monday by the country’s Supreme Court.
“You will not break us. You will make us stronger. You will give us more reasons to fight,” Machado shouted at the police who stopped her on the street a block away from the building.
Wearing Venezuela’s red, blue and gold flag around her neck and holding a white rose in her hand to symbolize peace, the 46-year-old Machado waved her lawmaker’s identity card, but made no headway.
Backed by 22 opposition lawmakers and a crowd of supporters praising her courage, she was confronted by a small group of backers of late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez denouncing her as a “traitor,” and police then lobbed tear gas to break up the crowd.
Machado said her being blocked from returning to her seat was “proof that there is a dictatorship in Venezuela.”
Assembly President Diosdado Cabello expelled Machado, of the opposition coalition Table for Democratic Unity, and stripped her of her legislative immunity last week after she tried to speak before the Organization of American States about her country’s political crisis.
Cabello, who also heads the ruling United Socialist Party, contends that Machado forfeited her seat when she was accredited to the Panamanian delegation to the organization — a Washington-based, pan-American bloc.
She attended a closed-door meeting of the bloc’s permanent council on March 21, but Caracas blocked an open session on the anti-government protests that have roiled the country since February.
Venezuela broke off diplomatic relations with Panama on March 5.
“She is not going to enter. She is not a deputy,” Cabello said in response to Machado’s vow to defy his order.
Backing the decision, government supporters delivered a complaint to the attorney general on Tuesday accusing Machado of “treason of the homeland.”
Maduro’s leftist government has faced a wave of near-daily street protests since Feb. 4, with the public venting anger over soaring crime, high inflation and shortages of essential goods. At least 39 people have died in the unrest.
In a New York Times editorial on Tuesday, Maduro reiterated his calls for dialogue with opposition activists and for exchanging ambassadors again with the US.
“Venezuela needs peace and dialogue to move forward. We welcome anyone who sincerely wants to help us reach these goals,” he wrote.