Venezuela parliament resumes 3 weeks after brawl

AP News
Posted: May 21, 2013 9:23 PM
Venezuela parliament resumes 3 weeks after brawl

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's parliament roared back to life Tuesday with fractious debates between government and opposition lawmakers after a three-week paralysis following a brawl on the assembly floor.

While no punches were thrown this time, the animated discussions reflected the deep polarization of the country since the death of longtime leader Hugo Chavez and last month's disputed presidential election.

Opposition lawmakers, who claim Chavez's anointed successor, Nicolas Maduro, stole the election by fraud, called for an investigation into the April 30 punch-up in the National Assembly, which left several members of the opposition injured. The brawl erupted as opposition legislators protested a decision to deny them the right to speak unless they accepted the election result.

The opposition also used Tuesday's session to call for an investigation into an audio recording they claim reveals Cuban behind-the-scenes influence on the Chavista government.

In it, state TV talk show host Mario Silva, who was a close ally of Chavez, purportedly is heard describing to a Cuban intelligence official an internal power struggle between Maduro and parliament speaker Diosdado Cabello.

Cabello, who was accused in the conversation of conspiring against Maduro, said he wouldn't respond to "something so rotten, surrounded by flies," while Chavista lawmaker Andres Eloy Mendez dismissed the recording as "gossip."

On his late-night show Monday, Silva said the recording was "absolutely fake" and suggested it had been put together by editing clips from his program, which has been on the air for nine years. He didn't give evidence of how that would have happened, and then announced he was going on sick leave.

"I'm going to be off the air for a few days," Silva said. "But let me tell you something: I insist I don't owe anyone an apology, because I haven't done anything that isn't revolutionary."

Maduro urged his supporters on Tuesday not to be "demoralized" by the recording, calling it part of a "psychological war to try to destroy the Bolivarian revolution."

Cuban authorities did not respond to a request for comment.

The opposition has long accused Cuban leaders of wielding influence behind the scenes in guiding Venezuelan government decisions. The government, meanwhile, accuses opposition leader Henrique Capriles of being a puppet of the U.S.

During his 14-year reign as president, Chavez forged close ties with Cuba, where he was treated for the cancer that killed him March 5. Venezuela has shipped billions of dollars' worth of oil to Cuba on preferential terms.


Associated Press writer Peter Orsi in Havana contributed to this report.