Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido declares himself acting president

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00:22 mins.
23.01.2019

Venezuela's Guaido swears himself in as president

Opposition leader Juan Guaido has declared himself acting president after urging supporters to take to the streets in an effort to oust President Nicolas Maduro. The US swiftly signaled its support for the move.

Venezuela's opposition leader and president of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido, on Wednesday declared himself acting president of the crisis-ridden South American country.

Key developments in brief:

  • Maduro says he is going nowhere and cuts all diplomatic ties with the US
  • The US, Brazil, Canada, the OAS and other countries voice support for Guaido
  • Bolivia and Mexico voice support for Maduro
  • Violent clashes ensue between police and opposition supporters

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Speaking to supporters gathered in front of the National Assembly, Guaido said, "I swear to formally assume the national executive powers as acting president of Venezuela to end the usurpation, [install] a transitional government and hold free elections."

Juan Guaido, hand on heart and holding the constitution, declared himself acting president of Venezuela to the cheers of supporters in Caracas Wednesday

Maduro: Opposition in 'coup,' Caracas cutting ties with US

President Nicolas Maduro, addressing supporters from the balcony of Miraflores, the presidential palace, said that Guaido and his supporters were attempting a coup and has called on the military to maintain order and discipline.

He also declared that his government would break all diplomatic ties with Washington and gave US diplomatic personnel 72 hours to leave the country. Maduro, who accused the opposition of staging a coup, said "I've decided to break diplomatic and political ties with the imperialist government of the United States," to the cheers of his supporters.

This came after the US was quick to recognize Guaido's claim to power and US President Donald Trump said "all options are on the table" when it comes to removing Maduro from power. Police in Caracas have used tear gas and rubber bullets in clashes with opposition supporters. 

Juan Guaido later issued a statement appealing to those diplomats that Maduro ordered to leave. The statement read, "The Venezuelan state wants you to maintain your diplomatic presence in our country." 

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Berlin would work with EU partners to work out a response, but appealed for calm. "We call on all actors to be calm and to refrain from violence," he said.

US recognizes move

The Trump administration has already recognized Guaido as president. In a statement released minutes after Guaido's declaration, US President Donald Trump said he would use, "The full weight of United States economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy." 

Trump acknowledged his recognition of Guaido as acting president in a tweet after the official statement. 

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who called on Maduro to step down, tweeted support for Guaido's "courageous" decision, calling for "a transitional government and ... free and fair elections."

At this point a number of countries have recognized Guaido's legitimacy as acting president, these include: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru; Mexico has said it will not change its policy toward Venezuela "for the time being."

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro tweeted his support Guaido so that "peace and democracy return to Venezuela."

Luis Almagro, the head of the Organization of American States (OAS), also tweeted his congratulations and voiced the organization's "recognition to spur the country's return to democracy."

Guaido made the the announcement on the anniversary of the coup that ousted military dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez in 1958. He had previously called for supporters to take to the streets Wednesday in mass demonstrations aimed at driving Venezuela's elected president, Nicolas Maduro, from office.

Maduro has survived similar mass protests in 2014 and 2017. During the 2017 protests some 125 people were killed by authorities.

Maduro's few friends voice support

Nicolas Maduro has few friends in the international community, though Mexico has officially announced that it will stick with him and Bolivian President Evo Morales came out in strong support.

Morales tweeted: "Our solidarity with the Venezuelan people and Nicolas Maduro in these decisive hours when the claws of imperialism are once again trying to deal a death blow to democracy and self-determination for the peoples of South America. We will not be the backyard of the US again."

Four dead in overnight protests

Guaido's announcement comes as tensions are in Venezuela are at a fever pitch. Clashes on the eve of his scheduled opposition protests killed four people on Tuesday night; dozens were also arrested. 

On Tuesday evening, a 16-year-old was killed by a "firearm injury during a demonstration" in the capital, Caracas, and three others were reported killed in the southern state of Bolivar. Protesters in Puerto Ordaz also toppled a statue of Maduro's predecessor and political mentor Hugo Chavez on Tuesday; smashing it and dangling parts of it from a bridge in the southern city. Some 30 people have been reported detained across the country.

Will the military shift alliances?

Early on Wednesday morning, Guaido had made a plea to the country's military via Twitter, writing: "To all of the national armed forces, our call is clear — from this parliament, we extend our hand and ask you to come to the side of the constitution and the people, your people."

Late Wednesday, however, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino tweeted that "the country's armed forces disavow any president who is self-proclaimed or is controlled by dark interests."

 

Thus far, Venezuela's military has maintained loyalty to Maduro, as have many of the country's poor. The country's shift to socialism under Chavez was made possible by his pleas to the poor, using state oil revenues to boost welfare benefits in exchange for their support.

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.

'Estamos con ustedes!'

Guaido had previously announced that he would be willing to replace Maduro in the interim and to call free elections with the support of the military. On Tuesday, US Vice President Mike Pence released a video in which he decried President Maduro as "a dictator with no legitimate claim to power." Pence pledged US support for his overthrow, telling Venezuelans: "Estamos con ustedes! We are with you."

Read more: Opinion: Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro has lost all legitimacy

A president desperate to maintain power

Maduro, who was recently re-elected in a vote that international observers called a sham — not least because the opposition urged its supporters to boycott the vote — has been struggling to maintain power. His grip has become increasingly tenuous in light of Venezuela's sharp recession.

The economic problems, caused in no small part by low oil prices, have sparked massive social unrest. Food and medical shortages have caused millions of Venezuelans to flee the country and annual inflation has skyrocketed by more than 1 million percent.

Maduro has desperately attempted to shore up foreign aid to keep his oil-rich country propped up, but it increasingly appears that patience in Russia and China— traditional backers — may be waning as Caracas slips ever further into arrears.

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02:37 mins.
DW News | 10.01.2019

Maduro begins second term as president of Venezuela

js/msh (AFP, AP)

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