Tensions in Venezuela reached an all-time-high on Wednesday after the opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, declared himself interim president to tens of thousands of protestors on the streets of Caracas, and was promptly recognized as the head of state by President Trump among other world leaders. In response to this, President Nicolas Maduro, who was sworn in for a second term two weeks ago, decided to sever all diplomatic and political relations with the United States and has given U.S. diplomatic personnel 72 hours to leave the country.
The U.S. has not heeded the demands, and U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, issued a statement denying Maduro’s authority to make them in the first place; “the United States does not consider former president Nicolas Maduro to have the legal authority to break diplomatic relations with the United States or to declare our diplomats persona non grata.” He further states that any attempt by the Venezuelan military to endanger U.S. diplomats will be countered with “appropriate action,” and President Trump has not ruled out using U.S. military force if needed, “all options are on the table.” Meanwhile, Trump wrote in a statement that he will “continue to use the full weight of the United States economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy,” and has urged other governments to follow his example.
The self-declaration of Juan Guaidó, a 35-year-old industrial engineer and elected head of the National Assembly, has been a welcome change from the corrupt Maduro for many. In fact, in addition to Canada and the U.S., 11 countries of the Lima Group, founded in 2017 to address the Venezuelan issue, have signed a resolution endorsing Guaidó. However, not everyone is pleased by this change. Mexico, Turkey, Russia and China among others have refused to recognize the interim president, seeing his declaration as anti-democratic. Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated on Thursday, “As a country that believes in democracy … wherever in the world there is a coup attempt, we stand against them all without distinction. Everyone has to respect the result of the ballot boxes.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov similarly has stated that the declaration is a “breach of international law,” and the Russian government warned that U.S. intervention was a “path to lawlessness and bloodshed.”
However, while it is clear that Juan Guaidó has not gone through the democratic process, Maduro’s own recent election to a six-year-term in May 2018 has been mired by reports of coercion and vote rigging. In fact, since assuming power in 2013 Maduro’s failed policies and blatant corruption have led to gross hyperinflation, a migrant crisis, and the consequent economic collapse of the previously wealthy oil-producing nation. Despite his obvious mismanagement, Maduro has retained control by centralizing power, suppressing opposition through violence and the support of the military, and even having the Constitution rewritten. This latest protest on Wednesday led to the deaths of at least nine people, according to The Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict, as security forces dispersed crowds with rubber bullets and tear gas, as protestors cried “What do we want? Freedom.”
The situation in Venezuela is on the brink of escalation into further violence and bloodshed, a fact that could be exacerbated by the threat of potential U.S. military intervention. It is crucial that some form of dialogue can be established on all sides before the crisis worsens. As UN chief Antonio Guterres stated at the World Economic Forum in Davos, “What we hope is that dialogue can be possible, and that we avoid an escalation that would lead to the kind of conflict that would be a disaster for the people of Venezuela and the region.”
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