As opposition marches were held across Venezuela on January 23, at least 700 opposition supporters were trapped in Maturin’s Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel for several hours, besieged by the Venezuelan Army.
The Jan. 23 marches were convoked by the National Assembly, Venezuela’s democratically elected legislature, which is controlled by the opposition. At one of these marches in Caracas, Juan Guaido, head of the National Assembly, declared himself interim president, calling leader Nicolas Maduro illegitimate.
Tens of thousands of Venezuelans marched in support of the opposition, and security forces met some of the protesters with tear gas. Local NGOs have said 14 people were shot dead during protests Jan. 22-23.
Bishop Enrique Pérez Lavado of Maturin reported that seminarians, priests, and some 700 people participating in the demonstration were besieged in the cathedral, with the military “trying to break their way inside,” according to the Venezuelan bishops’ conference on Twitter.
Soon after, Pérez reported that the soldiers had surrounded the church, with more than a thousand opposition demonstrators inside: “The National Bolivarian Army is guarding the entrances to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral where there are more than a thousand opposition supporters.”
According to a report on Twitter by Radio Fe y Alegría, government supporters were also inside the cathedral. The station said that Father Samael Gamboa negotiated with the security forces for the people to leave in groups, “to guarantee their human rights.”
The people took refuge in the cathedral due to repression by the regime’s security forces and by pro-government groups. Earlier this month, the bishops called illegitimate Maduro’s swearing in for a second term as president. Maduro won a May 2018 presidential election which was boycotted by the opposition and has been rejected by much of the international community.