BOGOTA -- A day after lawmakers had a bloody brawl, President Nicolás Maduro and rival Henrique Capriles led rallies focused on last month’s election.
Government supporters and opposition groups in Venezuela held dueling May Day marches Wednesday amid growing tensions over last month’s contested presidential election and one day after the legislature devolved into a bloody, chair-throwing brawl.
The rallies were, ostensibly, to celebrate international workers day, and counted on the support of rival unions and labor organizations. But they were also a show of political strength in a nation still at odds over the April 14 presidential vote.
President Nicolás Maduro and rival Henrique Capriles spearheaded the marches but tried to avoid confrontation by routing their supporters through different parts of Caracas.
In his ongoing battle to prove that the election was plagued by fraud, Capriles, 40, the governor of Miranda state, told throngs of supporters he would be handing over evidence of irregularities to the Supreme Court on Thursday.
“We will make our case to every institution even though we don’t trust the state,” he said. “In any moment this [government] will fall, but its exit has to be constitutional. … This is a peaceful fight to defeat their lies.”
On the other side of town, Maduro called Capriles a sore loser.
“You were defeated, accept your defeat,” he said. “You’re a crying bourgeois and a fascist who wants to take the country down the path of hatred and violence.”
Venezuela’s election authority, says Maduro — Hugo Chávez’s handpicked successor — won the race by 224,730 votes or 1.49 percentage points. But Capriles says there were enough irregularities, including ballots cast by the deceased, to change the outcome. International organizations invited to monitor the race have been split on the issue.
In response to the fraud allegations, the National Electoral Council, or CNE, began auditing voting machines on Monday, but the opposition is boycotting the process, saying the review doesn’t go deep enough and won’t uncover the flaws in the system.
Maduro had initially agreed to a complete recount, but then backtracked. And CNE President Tibisay Lucena has said that reviewing the physical ballots is not a legal option. Instead, the audit is centered on the electronic voting machines themselves, and Lucena has said the process will not change the outcome of the race.
The U.S. State Department on Wednesday said it was awaiting the audit results but acknowledged it views Maduro as the country’s leader. Pressed by reporters, Acting Deputy Spokesman Patrick Ventrell stopped short of saying the U.S. government “recognized” Maduro — as the Venezuelan leader has been asking.
It’s not for the U.S. government to put “a stamp of approval one way or another on [Venezuela’s] electoral process,” Ventrell said. “It is for us to work with the government that’s in place on mutual interests of concern.”
The opposition’s refusal to accept the results has led to growing tensions. The National Assembly, which is controlled by the ruling party, has not let opposition lawmakers speak until they recognize Maduro.
Tuesday night, when the minority lawmakers were muted once again, they unfurled a banner reading “Parliamentary Coup” and began blasting foghorns. Fists and chairs began flying — forcing one deputy to put on a motorcycle helmet — and at least 11 lawmakers were injured in the melee.