Protesters have filled the streets in Venezuela amidst calls of a rigged election for President Nicolás Maduro. The socialist leader declared himself president on Wednesday despite overseeing one of the most devastating economic collapses. The leader of the opposition party, Juan Guaido, declared himself the interim president with the support of the Venezuelan people and the National Assembly prompting support from several governments around the world. The turn of events in Venezuela has many fearing violence and government opposition in what has already been tumultuous years in the South American country.
Venezuela is trying to cut off relations with the United States due to their support of Guaido.
Who is Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader Trump just recognized as Venezuela's president? https://t.co/T76JyIVMor
— TIME (@TIME) January 24, 2019
Maduro’s government responded to the U.S. backing Guaido by saying he no longer recognizes diplomatic relations with the United States. He gave American diplomats 72 hours to leave Venezuela. While Guaido doesn’t plan on keeping the title of president indefinitely, he says he will call for new elections in the near future.
“Today, I am officially recognizing the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, as the Interim President of Venezuela,” President Trump said in a statement. “In its role as the only legitimate branch of government duly elected by the Venezuelan people, the National Assembly invoked the country’s constitution to declare Nicolás Maduro illegitimate, and the office of the presidency therefore vacant. The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law.”
Guaidó and other world leaders say the rigged vote means that he, as the President of the National Assembly (the country’s legislative body), is the true leader of the country. Guaidó started country-wide protests on last week to force President Maduro’s resignation showing the growing displeasure of his leadership.
Protesters took over city streets across Venezuela and some turned deadly.
First clashes in opposition protests in El Paraiso, Caracas. The police threw teargas to dissipate protestors in the area.
Everything remains peaceful in other areas of Caracas and #Venezuela.
— Amir Richani (@amir_richani) January 23, 2019
There have been protests in support of Guaidó and even some for Maduro across cities in Venezuela. According to the CNN, 40 people have been killed in the civil unrest as military officials have used violent force against protesters. The protests began coinciding with the anniversary of the 1958 coup that overthrew military dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez, a historic date for Venezuelans.
The growing unrest in Venezuela is due to years of economic mismanagement, repression and corruption cases that have plagued the country. These conditions have led to millions of people being driven out of the country amid inflation and severe shortages of basic items like food and medicine.
While Guaidó has the support of many Venezuelans, experts say it’s unlikely he will succeed.
— Misha Tati Etxea (@Mishatati) January 24, 2019
While Guaidó is the leader of the National Assembly, President Maduro still controls many of the country’s most powerful institutions, particularly the military. It will mostly take outside interference to be able to take down Maduro’s regime.
This is where things can get ugly as the U.S. might be that force that will have to get involved if things don’t improve rapidly in Venezuela. Venezuela’s military has pledged its support for Maduro showing that his downfall won’t be happening anytime soon.
“Anyone can declare himself president, but it’s the Venezuelan people who elect him, not the gringo government,” Maduro said to his supporters in a rally.
What’s next for Venezuela?
Venezuela was once one of the richest countries in South America. Now it's facing economic and democratic collapse. Here's why: pic.twitter.com/I4C5wo3DXW
— Vox (@voxdotcom) January 24, 2019
It’s hard to say what will happen next as Maduro still has so much power and is technically still the president of Venezuela. On Thursday, President Maduro ordered all of Venezuela’s diplomats in the U.S. to leave and said the country’s embassy and consulates in the U.S. will close as well.
By cutting off relations with the U.S., he is signaling to the world this will be the direction for the country moving forward. At the White House, Trump said “all options are on the table” should Maduro refuse to resign. One thing is clear from the growing turmoil, the people of Venezuela are being hurt the most in all of this.
“All of us want a change, a political change that helps us get over this terrifying crisis,” Adrian Cordero, a 32-year-old mechanic in Venezuela told the LA Times. “We’re hoping for a change that enables us to reunite with our family members who have left the country so as not to die of hunger. The country can’t tolerate this situation.”