CARACAS, VENEZUELA —
Venezuela's government upped the ante Thursday against the new opposition-led Congress with a protest against the removal of images of venerated late socialist leader Hugo Chavez and a legal appeal against the swearing-in of three legislators.
Irked by this week's unceremonious removal of the giant Chavez photos from Congress, his successor, President Nicolas Maduro, had them displayed in a Caracas plaza under military guard, and officials vowed to plaster the country with more.
"I've given the order that in the coming hours all the streets of Caracas, all the poles, all the fences, have the image of our liberator Simon Bolivar and the image of our Father Chavez," said Socialist Party heavyweight Jorge Rodriguez, with hundreds of government supporters at a Caracas square.
The furor symbolizes the ballooning confrontation between Venezuela's opposition, in control of the National Assembly for the first time in nearly 17 years, and Maduro's government.
Officials were infuriated by a video of Henry Ramos, 72, the rambunctious new president of the Assembly, telling workers earlier this week to rid the building of Chavez imagery, and adding: "This isn't a cemetery."
Maduro has called for nationwide protests. Ramos "doesn't respect the noble sentiment of millions of Venezuelans, the noble memory of a man who died," the president said Wednesday.
In another line of attack, pro-government lawmakers filed a complaint of disobedience at the Supreme Court against the assembly's new leadership for swearing in three opposition lawmakers whose election the tribunal had suspended.
The opposition coalition won a two-thirds majority with 112 seats in the December 6 legislative election. But the Supreme Court subsequently barred four lawmakers, including one from the Socialist Party, after allegations of voting irregularities in the jungle state of Amazonas. The opposition swore in its three newcomers anyway.
Though Maduro's popularity has sunk during an economic crisis, millions of poor Venezuelans still revere his predecessor, Chavez, for his folksy charisma and oil-fueled social programs. Many were upset by the Ramos video, which will not help the opposition's push to lure disenchanted "Chavistas."
"This video shows exactly what this so-called change is all about," said Gloria Torres, 54, who organized vigils for Chavez before his death in 2013. "Such arrogance."
The opposition, however, who says Chavez ruined the economy while behaving like a dictator, is aghast at the personality cult. His images and signature still adorn T-shirts and walls across the country.