World leaders back Venezuela's Guaidó as interim president

By
Wednesday, January 23, 2019

A growing list of world leaders recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country's interim president on Wednesday as tens of thousands marched in anti-government protests.

Guaidó, the 35-year-old head of the opposition-controlled congress, earlier swore himself in as Venezuela's acting leader and called on the armed forces to disobey the socialist government of President Nicolás Maduro.

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US President Donald Trump was the first foreign leader to publicly back Guaidó and reiterated his call for Maduro to step down to allow for new elections.

"The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law," Trump said in a White House statement.

Argentina, Canada, Brazil and the Organization of American States (OAE) also said they recognized Guaidó as Venezuela's interim president on Wednesday.

"We welcome the assumption of Juan Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela in accordance with Article 233 of the political constitution. You have our support, that of the international community and of the people of Venezuela," OEA president Luis Almagro said in a tweet.

Guaidó, who was briefly detained after declaring himself ready to assume Venezuela's presidency earlier this month, said he would offer amnesty to soldiers who refused to serve the government.

He called for protestors to march peacefully and for the armed forces "not to shoot at us."

"Venezuela is reborn today in the streets in search of freedom and democracy," he said on social media.

Maduro rejected the mobilization efforts and labelled the opposition as "terrorists." The 58-year-old former bus driver, who rose to power after the 2013 death of his predecessor and mentor Hugo Chávez, urged government supporters to counter the opposition movement with their own demonstrations.

"Let's defend our sovereignty," Maduro wrote on Twitter. "The streets belong to the people!"

VIOLENCE

Local media reported that at least nine people died late Tuesday and early Wednesday in clashes before and during the protests.

Among those killed was a 16-year-old with gunshot wounds, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict.

Images posted on social media showed national guard security forces using tear gas to disperse demonstrators in capital Caracas. Independent newspaper Tal Cual said street marches were held in many other cities across the country.

The protests come less than two weeks after Maduro was sworn in for a second six-year term, having won an election last May that was marred by claims of vote-rigging.

In July 2017, Maduro empowered a hand-picked constituent assembly to override the legislature following midterm congressional elections won by the opposition.

WORSENING CRISIS

Venezuela is grappling with the worst economic crisis in its history amid hyperinflation, severe food shortages and a mass exodus of its people.

Oil production, which accounts for 95% of the country's export revenue, has fallen by around 1Mb/d in the past two years and could dip by a further 800,000b/d in 2019, a Barclays research note warned last week.

Analysts blame the country's problems on the failed economic policies of Maduro, including strict foreign exchange controls and reckless money printing that has left the local currency almost worthless.

The IMF predicts that the country's inflation rate will reach 10mn percent in 2019, up from an estimated 1.3mn percent last year.

The deteriorating economic outlook is expected to worsen a regional migration and refugee crisis as Venezuelans flee from hunger, rampant crime and political persecution.