CARACAS, VENEZUELA —
Americo de Grazia, an opposition lawmaker injured when armed supporters of the president stormed the National Assembly building Wednesday, vowed that Venezuelans would continue “to fight for the recovery of democracy and freedom” in their country.
“This fight doesn't end today,” de Grazia told VOA shortly before he was discharged Thursday from a hospital here in the capital. He was treated for three fractured ribs and a head wound, as well as bruising from multiple blows elsewhere.
De Gracia was among at least 12 people injured in the fracas after dozens of supporters of socialist President Nicolas Maduro carrying sticks, metal pipes and homemade explosives burst into the building Wednesday during a special session marking Venezuela's Independence Day. Five of the wounded were opposition lawmakers.
The armed gangs, or colectivos, left the building but surrounded it for hours, taking hostage at least 112 lawmakers, staff and journalists, including this reporter.
Daily street protests
The violent encounter followed three months of almost daily street protests, which have led to almost 100 deaths, mostly of civilians. Maduro's foes angry about Venezuela's collapsed economy and increasingly authoritarian rule demand that he schedule democratic elections, release political prisoners and allow access to humanitarian aid.
Maduro's most ardent supporters, including the colectivos, have called for dissolving the opposition-led assembly.
Maduro has scheduled an election July 30 to choose members of a constituent assembly to rewrite Venezuela's constitution the only way, he says, to fix the country's problems. Opposition leaders, who contend Maduro ordered the revision to tighten his grip on power, have called for an unofficial referendum July 16 so Venezuelans can indicate whether they want a new charter.
Actions of colectivos' defended
At a rally Thursday to defend the constituent assembly, Diosdado Cabello, a prominent pro-Maduro member of the National Assembly, endorsed the colectivos' actions.
“Yesterday, the people defended themselves … from the constant aggressions of the Venezuelan right,” Cabello said, criticizing right-leaning opposition lawmakers and their backers. At the event, broadcast on state-run television, he added that “the people will continue to defend” Maduro in the streets.
OAS urged to hold meeting
Also Thursday, Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States urged its permanent council's current president to convene an emergency meeting as early as Friday to address Venezuela's political crisis. He wrote to Brazil's ambassador to the OAS, Jose Luiz Machado Costa, to formally request the meeting.
Foreign ministers of the OAS's 34 member states have met several times about the crisis most recently in Mexico mid-June but have not reached consensus about whether or how to intercede.
“We strongly condemn the new attack that shows a new dictatorial action in Venezuela,” Almagro tweeted late Wednesday.
Alfredo Romero, executive director of the rights group Venezuelan Penal Forum, told VOA that the colectivos' attack constituted “a gross violation” against the National Assembly and the country's sovereignty.