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    Exiled Venezuela lawmakers chosen to lead anti-Maduro fight

    CARACAS, VENEZUELA (AP) – Venezuela’s opposition has selected an all-female team of mostly unknown exiled former lawmakers to replace the beleaguered Juan Guaidó as the face of its faltering efforts to remove socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

    Last week, politicians who were elected to the National Assembly in 2015 voted to oust Guaidó from his role as “interim president”, a title he claimed as head of what was widely considered the South American nation’s last democratically elected institution.

    On Thursday, those same former lawmakers chose Dinorah Figueroa as his replacement.

    She’ll be joined by two other backbenchers – Marianela Fernández and Auristela Vásquez – in a triumvirate leadership of a legislature that operates as a symbolic shadow to Maduro’s rubber-stamping National Assembly, which convened on Thursday in its neo-classical chambers.

    The women represent three different parties that had been pushing for Guaidó’s removal as a way to reconnect with disillusioned voters ahead of next year’s presidential elections. But it remains to see how, living outside Venezuela, they will manage to mobilise their compatriots to counter Maduro’s increasingly firm grip on power.

    Newly sworn-in lawmakers stand for a group photo at the start of the legislative year in Caracas, Venezuela. PHOTO: AP

    A medical surgeon who has been living in Spain Figueroa appealed for unity in her first address to fellow Maduro opponents.

    She also promised to work to shield the OPEC nation’s extensive oil assets abroad, which include Houston-based refinery Citgo, from seizure by a long list of creditors stiffed by Maduro’s profligate spending over the years.

    “I have the conviction that this parliament will raise the flag of faith, hope and justice,” Figuera said in the session, which was held virtually, in a Zoom meeting, because so many opposition politicians like her have fled Venezuela in recent years.

    In January 2019, the National Assembly, then controlled by the opposition, voted to stop recognising Maduro as president after several top opponents were barred from running against him.

    It then appointed Guaidó, who was one of the few leaders in his Popular Will party to avoid arrest or exile, to be the nation’s “interim president”, in accordance with the order of succession outlined in Venezuela’s constitution.

    Guaidó was quickly recognised as Venezuela’s legitimate leader by the United States (US) and dozens of governments in Europe and Latin America.

    But his interim government was unable to win over the military, the traditional arbiter of political disputes in Venezuela, and the opposition-controlled National Assembly’s five-year mandate officially ended at the close of 2020.

    With leftist leaders winning elections across Latin America in recent years, the US-led international coalition to pressure Maduro has also frayed. Colombia, Brazil and Spain are among the countries that recently re-established diplomatic ties.

    Guaido, in Thursday’s meeting, thanked his many supporters, both domestic and foreign, in what was something akin to a farewell address.

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