Venezuela: Guaido loyalists seize diplomatic properties in US

Envoys loyal to Venezuela's interim president have taken control of diplomatic buildings and a consulate. Caracas has severed ties with the US, accusing it of staging a coup against acting President Maduro.

Envoys of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido on Monday took control of several diplomatic properties in the US.

Venezuela's acting president, Nicolas Maduro, has cut ties diplomatic ties with the US, accusing it of attempting to oust him from power. Guaido, who invoked Venezuela's constitution and declared himself interim president, has pushed Western countries to isolate Maduro's regime.

Read more: 'Time running out for Nicolas Maduro,' Venezuela's Juan Guaido tells DW

What happened:

  • The consulate in New York was occupied by Guaido's representatives
  • Two Venezuelan diplomatic buildings were seized in Washington, including the office of the military attache to the US
  • More buildings are expected to be targeted "in the days to come," Guaido's US envoy said
  • Action was taken "to preserve the assets of the Venezuelans here in this country, he added

Read more:How millions of 'dirty dollars' were laundered out of Venezuela 

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01:53 mins.
DW News | 12.02.2019

Juan Guaido: 'Time is running out for Maduro'

'Forcible occupation'

Guaido said his representatives had taken control of the diplomatic properties to "strengthen bilateral relations (with the US) and better serve the Venezuelan community in the country."

The US State Department said Washington was "pleased to support these requests."

The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry called on the US to "take the necessary measures to immediately reverse this forcible occupation."

Read more: Venezuela explained: Who backs Maduro, who backs Guaido?

Defections

Guaido's US envoy, Carlos Vecchio, said that 12 out of 55 staff members at the diplomatic properties decided to remain in the US, throwing their support behind Guaido.

Earlier this year, Venezuela's military attache to the US became one of the first military officials to recognize Guaido. Many more have followed in his footsteps. Up to 1,000 members of Venezuela's security and armed forces have fled to the Colombia since February, according to Bogota.

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Read more: Venezuela: Who will the military support?

Power struggle

In January, then-opposition lawmaker Guaido declared himself president of Venezuela in a stunning move that undermined Maduro's authority in the country.

The US immediately recognized him as the legitimate president of the oil-rich, cash-strapped country. Shortly after, Germany and other Western countries recognized him. But Maduro's regime continues to enjoy support from countries such as Russia, China and Turkey.

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Venezuela on the brink

The last straw

In March 2017, violent protests erupted across the country in response to a Supreme Court decision to strip the legislative branch of its powers. Amid an international outcry, President Nicolas Maduro reversed the decision, but it was too late. Thousands continued to take to the streets, calling for new elections. More than 100 people were killed in clashes with security forces.

Venezuela on the brink

Hunger, a growing problem

The violence added to the ongoing economic and political crisis in Venezuela. Many Venezuelans spend more than 30 hours a week waiting in lines to shop, and are often confronted with empty shelves when they finally enter a store. President Maduro blames the crisis on US price speculation. The opposition, however, accuses the Socialist government of economic mismanagement.

Venezuela on the brink

Health care in crisis

The crisis has even affected health care in the oil-rich nation. Venezuelans often head to Colombia to collect medical supplies to send home, as seen in this picture. Hospitals across Venezuela have compared conditions to those seen only in war zones. As patient deaths rise, health officials have sounded the alarm on the rise of malaria and dengue fever.

Venezuela on the brink

Power grab

By July 2017, Venezuela's pro-government Constituent Assembly was established. For observers, it had all the hallmarks of a power grab. The new body adopted the authority to pass legislation on a range of issues, effectively taking away the powers of Venezuela's elected congress, which was under the opposition's control. The move drew wide international condemnation.

Venezuela on the brink

The West sanctions

In response to the political crisis, the United States and European Union imposed a series of sanctions against ruling officials. The US blacklisted members of the Constituent Assembly and froze all of Maduro's assets that are subject to US jurisdiction. The EU banned arms sales to the country.

Venezuela on the brink

Government victorious in regional elections

In October 2017, Venezuela held two votes: regional elections and elections for governors, which were long overdue. The opposition boycotted the vote, but then split, as some candidates and small parties chose to participate. This caused a deep rift within Maduro's opponents. The government went on to sweep the vote, which detractors say was unfair and heavily favored the regime.

Venezuela on the brink

Debt default

In November 2017, the oil-rich, cash-poor nation faced its day of reckoning. Credit ratings agencies declared Venezuela and its state-run oil company in "selective default." But Russia offered to restructure the South American country's debt to ensure Caracas pays its other creditors. US and EU sanctions, however, limited the chance of an agreement.

Venezuela on the brink

Presidential elections scheduled

The National Assembly announced in January 2018 that it would grant Maduro's call for snap presidential elections. The electoral authority, CNE, held the elections on May 20. The EU, the US and 14 Latin American nations warned that they would not recognize the results. The mainstream MUD opposition alliance boycotted the vote, leaving only one possible outcome.

Venezuela on the brink

Maduro wins ...

Maduro was re-elected to a second six-year term with about 68 percent of the vote. Turnout was only 46 percent, according to electoral authorities. However, the MUD opposition alliance put turnout at less than 30 percent. The Organization of American States (OAS) called the elections neither free nor fair.

Venezuela on the brink

... Guaido assumes power

But weeks into the new year, the situation took a drastic turn. On January 23, 2019, parliament president Juan Guaido declared himself interim president of Venezuela — a move that was quickly recognized by US President Donald Trump. Maduro called it a US-backed "coup." Days later, the US sanctioned Venezuela's state oil firm, while Guaido staked his claim on the country's foreign assets.

ls/rt (Reuters, AFP, AP)