A group of Venezuelan legislators brawled on Tuesday night as political tensions remain high over April’s presidential election.
Amateur video of the incident taken by an opposition legislators showed lawmakers punching, kicking and shoving each other during a session of the National Assembly.
The video, which can be viewed above, occurred after the unicameral chamber passed a resolution stripping opposition congressmen of most legislative powers unless they recognize the April 14 election victory of current President Nicolás Maduro.
“Without a word, like cowards, they came at us from behind," said opposition lawmaker Ismael García who accused members of the ruling coalition of starting the fight.
One of García’s colleagues, Julio Borges, appeared on local TV after the brawl with bruises and blood covering part of his face.
"They can beat us, jail us, kill us, but we will not sell out our principles," said a defiant Borges. "These blows give us more strength."
Opposition congresswoman María Corina Machado alleged that National Assembly chief Diosdado Cabello “smiled” while witnessing a legislator being “savagely beaten.”
Henrique Capriles, the opposition figure who lost last month’s election to Maduro by less than two percent, blasted the government for promoting violence in Venezuela.
“The disaster of this government and those who run it try to cover it up with violence,” tweeted Capriles. “Maduro wants to convert his country into a circus and (I don’t mean) Du soleil!” mentioned Capriles in reference to Maduro recently attending a performance by Cirque du Soleil.
Pro-government politicos rejected the opposition’s accusations and blamed them for starting the clash.
“Today again I had to defend (the late president Hugo Chávez') legacy," said lawmaker Odalis Monzon. Meanwhile, Cabello accused Borges and García of “staging” the brawl and added, “just because (Borges) was assaulted does not mean that he was not an aggressor.”
At an event this morning, Maduro condemned the fistfight and claimed that he “disagrees with violence.” He also instructed Cabello to “take whatever measures of authority and discipline necessary” in order to prevent future brawls.
The fight occurred on the eve of competing May Day rallies in Caracas by pro- and anti-government supporters.
“We only want the truth to be known - that they stole the elections,” said anti-government marcher Graciela Perez regarding the alleged voting irregularities in the contested election.
"We're here in the streets because this is a workers' government that represents the people," said Luis Graterol at the pro-government demonstration several miles away from the anti-Chavista rally.
With political divisions seemingly tearing Venezuela apart, Spanish officials offered to intervene and help but Maduro refused:
Venezuela has been on edge since the controversial April 14 election. At least eight people died in street protests a day after the vote, while many more have been arrested in what the opposition is calling a wave of repression. Maduro, meanwhile, has accused the opposition of planning a coup.
Former colonial ruler Spain has offered to serve as mediator between the government and opposition, but Maduro shot down the move with a strongly-worded rejection to Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo.
"Mr. Foreign Minister, get your snout out of Venezuela … Just get out of here, you impertinent Spanish foreign minister," he said. "Respect Venezuela."Venezuela’s electoral council commenced this week a partial audit that is expected to take several weeks. It rejected the opposition’s call for a vote-by-vote recount, which led Capriles on Monday to blast Maduro for “illegitimately stealing the presidency.”
Update (5:45 PM): Capriles declared today that on Thursday he will formally contest the results of the April 14th presidential election.
He also announced at an anti-government May Day rally in Caracas hope that international pressure against the government "will help the truth come out" regarding the contested election.
Maduro, in the meantime, reiterated Cabello's accusations against the opposition "staging" yesterday's brawl during a session of the legialture.
"I lament the punches thrown against (congressman) Julio Borges but afterwards he acted like a clown on TV and put something on himself to make it look like he was bleeding," claimed Maduro. "He should come clean and call for peace because he was the won who started the brouhaha," Maduro added.
Update (9:55 PM): U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell denounced the violence amongst Venezuelan legislators on Tuesday as "not belonging to a representative democracy."
Regarding Maduro acting as Venezuelan president, Ventrell said on Wednesday that the U.S. government wouldn't "put a stamp of approval one way or another on (Venezuela’s) electoral process. It is for us to work with the government that’s in place on mutual interests of concern.”
Video Source– YouTube via user Claudia HD
Online Sources including Updates – Voice of America; BBC News; Deutsche Welle; Chicago Tribune; El Universal; El Nacional; USA TODAY; La Republica; Miami Herald