January 6, 2016 / 12:04 AM / 4 years ago

Venezuela opposition supporters revel in new Congress

CARACAS (Reuters) - Cameras zoomed in on First Lady and lawmaker Cilia Flores as an opposition legislator accused Venezuela’s government of handing out diplomatic passports to drug traffickers, an allusion to her two nephews on trial in the United States on cocaine smuggling charges.

Cilia Flores (red coat), deputy of Venezuela's United Socialist Party (PSUV) and wife of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro and fellow deputy, former National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello (2nd R) talk to others before the start of the session at the National Assembly in Caracas, January 5, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Another opposition legislator stood up and accused his ruling Socialist Party counterparts of stealing money destined for cancer medicines and food, both of which are running short in the crisis-hit country.

For Venezuela’s frustrated opposition supporters, the first session of the National Assembly on Tuesday was a delightful spectacle.

“We were all glued,” said Gustavo Avila, 60, a waiter in an Italian restaurant where televisions were switched from the usual sports channel to one covering the hours-long legislative session.

“Everything they said was true. We need a radical change,” he added, complaining about shortages and crime.

The Democratic Unity coalition took control of Congress for the first time in 16 years on Tuesday in a rowdy session that included slogan-chanting and heckling. At one point, Socialist Party deputies walked out over the alleged violation of parliamentary rules.

While the opposition-led Congress has few powers to overhaul President Nicolas Maduro’s suffocating economic controls, it plans to use its new perch to pile pressure on the government.

Tuesday’s session, the first since Democratic Unity won two-thirds of seats in elections in December, was just a taster of much more significant challenges to come, the dominant bloc says.

“Where did they spend Venezuela’s money? We’re going to question all the ministers. And if we have to dismiss them, we will!” said opposition lawmaker William Barrientos after the session, relaxing on the terrace of a bar with his team.


Taxi drivers cranked up their radios to listen, people in bars and restaurants stopped to watch, and Venezuela’s buzzing social media tracked the sometimes tense session.

And for the first time in years, journalists were present. The Socialist Party had banned reporters from accessing the floor to interview lawmakers, a measure the new opposition leadership dropped.

“It was very emotional to see television cameras and journalists again,” said opposition lawmaker Elias Matta, who added that in past legislative periods state media shunned him and his microphone was turned down.

The National Assembly television channel ANTV, which the opposition said showed a blatant bias toward the ruling party, used to have full control over congressional coverage.

“What swept through the National Assembly today was change. The Socialists still don’t understand that they’re now a minority. But time cures everything,” Matta added with a smile.

Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Kieran Murray and Andrew Hay

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