President Donald Trump recognized a right-wing opposition leader in Venezuela as the country’s interim president.
“I am officially recognizing the president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as the interim President of Venezuela,” Trump proclaimed. “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 Nicolas 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,” Trump added.
Trump pledged to continue the administration’s agenda of sanctions against the economy and prominent figures in Venezuela until Maduro steps aside or is ousted.
“We encourage other Western hemisphere governments to recognize National Assembly President Guaido as the interim President of Venezuela, and we will work constructively with them in support of his efforts to restore constitutional legitimacy,” Trump stated. “We continue to hold the illegitimate Maduro regime directly responsible for any threats it may pose to the safety of the Venezuelan people.”
The State Department recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president as well, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went so far as to encourage the country’s military to participate in the coup.
“We repeat our call to the Venezuelan military and security forces to support democracy and protect all Venezuelan citizens,” Pompeo declared.
Pompeo indicated, “The United States supports President Guaido as he establishes a transitional government, and leads Venezuela, as the country prepares for free and fair elections. We urge all Venezuelans to support peacefully this democratic process, as granted in the 1999 Constitution.”
The move to recognize Guaido as the interim president of Venezuela coincided with a day of demonstrations on January 23, which were organized by the opposition.
It followed a January 22 video message from Vice President Mike Pence to the opposition in Venezuela, where he proclaimed, “As the good people of Venezuela make your voices heard tomorrow, on behalf of the American people, we say: estamos con ustedes. We are with you. We stand with you, and we will stay with you until democracy is restored and you reclaim your birthright of Libertad.”
Pockets of dissent exist within the armed forces, but the military has so far maintained their loyalty to Maduro because he is the one tasked with continuing President Hugo Chavez’s vision for the country.
According to the Associated Press, “A small group of soldiers took captive a captain in charge of a police station in western Caracas and stole a cache of weapons from another outpost.”
Venezuelan officials claimed 25 soldiers were caught at a National Guard outpost two miles from Maduro’s presidential palace. Two other arrests were made, and that same night, armed national guardsmen published videos against Maduro and cited “Guaido’s call to action.”
Guaido held a symbolic swearing-in ceremony in front of anti-government demonstrators on January 23. Demonstrators put their hands up as he took the “oath” and declared himself the country’s president.
In addition to statements of unequivocal support for Guaido, the Trump administration indicated officials were contemplating oil sanctions to further inflict neoliberal war on the country.
Maduro responded, “I’ve decided to break diplomatic and political relations with the imperialist U.S. government.”
He continued, “Don’t trust the gringos. They don’t have friends or loyalties. They only have interests, guts, and the ambition to take Venezuela’s oil, gas, and gold.”
Maduro also blasted Pence for giving the order to “carry out a fascist coup d’etat.”
“Never before has a high-level official said that the opposition should overthrow the government,” he asserted. “[There is] no historic comparison in the 200 years of US-Venezuela relations.”
It was not long after the response from Maduro that the State Department said it would refuse to withdraw diplomats. Officials pledged to “take appropriate actions to hold accountable anyone who endangers the safety and security of our mission and its personnel.”
Nearly two weeks ago, Maduro took the oath of office and refused to submit to coercion from the United States, Western countries, and several Latin American countries, including Argentina and Brazil, that have formed a coalition against his government.
A presidential election took place last May, but before votes were tallied, the Trump administration refused to acknowledge the outcome and pledged to impose further sanctions that were later implemented.
The Maduro government does not currently recognize the National Assembly as a legitimate legislative body. It recognizes the Constituent Assembly as the country’s legislature.
In 2017, Maduro called for a Constituent Assembly in response to violent protests that were fueled by the right-wing opposition, which setup guarimbas—barricades that often consist of boulders, trees, or fires, or may include oily substances.
There were people who were burned alive or lynched during the protests. Alexander Rafael Sanoja Sánchez and José Bravo were killed by opposition demonstrators who attacked the truck Bravo was driving. Molotov cocktails were thrown and incinerated their bodies.
Danny José Subero was lynched and then executed. Héctor Anuel Blanco was hit by some kind of explosive and burned alive. Orlando Figueroa was lynched, beaten, and attacked with knives. He burned alive too.
On June 28, Oscar Perez, a member of the opposition stole a police helicopter and launched a grenade attack against the country’s Supreme Court. He is part of a “coalition of security forces,” who believe Maduro should resign immediately and apparently have no reservations about engaging in violent acts against government buildings.
The opposition boycotted the Constituent Assembly, which is essentially a constitutional convention. Media and human rights organizations popularized the notion that this was a move by Maduro to solidify his dictatorial power over the country, even though the constitution permits the president to call for such an assembly.
Importantly, the constitution does not allow “constituted authorities” like the legislature—the National Assembly—to obstruct the constitutional convention.
While the Constituent Assembly is not supposed to be a permanent legislative body, it was an attempt to calm a crisis that escalated in March 2017 when Venezuela’s Supreme Court announced it would assume the functions of the National Assembly because it was in “contempt of court.”
Since July 28, 2016, the body had violated a Supreme Court order by swearing in deputies who were barred from taking office. The three delegates were under investigation for allegedly buying votes during an election.
Prominent right-wing opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who is on house arrest, is apparently working closely with Guaido, who participated in the student protest movement against Chavez in the 2000s and was elected to the National Assembly in 2015.
The Associated Press reported, “The two talk a half dozen times each day, and not a single speech or move isn’t coordinated with Lopez first, said one ally, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the internal proceedings.”
Lopez participated in the coup against Chavez in 2002, which was backed by President George W. Bush. He has the full support of Western governments and human rights organizations, which regard him as a political prisoner.
He is charged with crimes that stem from a cycle of “strategic unrest” or violent protests that unfolded in 2014 against Maduro.