New speaker of Venezuela’s congress vows to promote “great national dialogue”

Caracas, Jan 5 (efe-epa).- The new head of Venezuela’s unicameral legislature said Tuesday he will promote a “great national dialogue” that includes all sectors of the crisis-ridden South American nation.

Jorge Rodriguez said the goal is to achieve reconciliation in a country where the US-aligned opposition has long refused to accept the legitimacy of its leftist government, now headed by President Nicolas Maduro.

“In the coming hours, a commission for a great national dialogue will emerge from this National Assembly, a dialogue among all of us,” Rodriguez said in his first speech as speaker of that legislative body.

The lawmaker pledged to invite all sectors, including members of the opposition who boycotted the Dec. 6 congressional election on grounds that conditions for a free and fair vote were not in place.

Rodriguez, however, did not indicate whether the invitees would include Juan Guaido, his predecessor as speaker of the National Assembly, a body that had been controlled by the opposition in recent years.

Guaido in early 2019 proclaimed himself Venezuela’s interim president and was recognized as such by a group of countries led by the United States, which under President Donald Trump has imposed devastating sanctions on the oil-rich country.

With the legislature back in the hands of Maduro’s allies, Guaido has set up a virtual session of parliament aimed at rivaling the one now led by the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).

Rodriguez said Tuesday he would focus on rebuilding what was destroyed under the previous leadership of congress but stressed that the quest for reconciliation does not imply “amnesia.”

“We’ll forgive but not forget. There are crimes that must be paid for … crimes against our workers, against our boys, against our girls. They were even crimes intended to do away with our territory,” he added.

In that regard, he repeated allegations that opposition members of the previous legislature had embezzled funds belonging to the nation and to Venezuelan companies abroad, including fertilizer producer Monomeros Colombo Venezolanos in Colombia and Citgo Petroleum Corporation in the US.

He also once again accused opposition leaders Leopoldo Lopez, Julio Borges, Carlos Vecchio and Guaido of stealing “billions of dollars” and keeping the money in bank accounts in tax havens.

Rodriguez furthermore said he will need to heal and “exorcise” the National Assembly after opposition leaders planned their “crimes” from that legislative body.

Venezuela’s information minister between 2017 and 2020, Rodriguez was sworn in Tuesday as National Assembly speaker with the support of 256 PSUV lawmakers. Twenty opposition legislators voted against him.

The more than 200 PSUV legislators elected on Dec. 6 arrived as a bloc on Tuesday at the legislative palace carrying portraits of South American independence hero Simon Bolivar and late President Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s mentor and predecessor.

Those portraits had been taken out of the chamber by the previous leadership of the National Assembly, which was effectively toothless while under opposition control following the creation in 2017 of the pro-Maduro National Constituent Assembly, a plenipotentiary body.

On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington continues to support Guaido and the “last democratically elected National Assembly.”

Three conservative-led countries in the region – Colombia, Brazil and Uruguay – also said Tuesday they do not recognize the legitimacy of the new PSUV-led congress. EFE-EPA


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