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2019 Venezuelan presidential crisis

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2019 Venezuelan presidential crisis
Part of the crisis in Venezuela
Maduro and Guaidó (Presidential crisis).png
Date10 January 2019 (2019-01-10)ongoing
Location
MethodsProtests, support campaigns
Parties to the civil conflict
Lead figures

Since 10 January 2019, Venezuela has been experiencing a presidential crisis, with unclear leadership and terms of the Venezuelan presidency. The incumbent President Nicolás Maduro was re-elected as president in the 2018 Venezuelan presidential election; however, the results of that election were disputed, largely because of irregularities in the way the election was called. The dispute came to a head in early 2019 when the National Assembly of Venezuela stated that the results of the election were invalid and declared Juan Guaidó as the acting president, citing several clauses of the 1999 Venezuelan Constitution. National protests were then organized by the opposition against Maduro's election and his ruling coalition.

Shortly after the National Assembly's declaration, various Venezuelan groups, foreign nations, and international organizations made statements supporting either side to the conflict, with the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and the Arab League leading the support for Maduro while the Organization of American States (OAS) and the European Union shared support for the National Assembly.

On 13 January, Guaidó was briefly detained by Venezuelan security forces, with each side claiming the other party was responsible; Maduro's supporters claimed the arrest was staged while Guaidó called the arrest an attempt to stop the National Assembly from assuming power.

Maduro's government states that the actions taken against him are the results of imperialism perpetrated by the United States and allies that put Venezuela "at the centre of a world war".[37] The Venezuelan opposition justifies its actions, stating that both the national and international community must unite behind a transitional government that will guarantee humanitarian aid, bring the restoration of Venezuela's rule of law and have the ability to hold democratic elections.[38]

Background

Since 2010, Venezuela has been suffering a socioeconomic crisis under Nicolás Maduro (and briefly his predecessor Hugo Chávez), as rampant crime, hyperinflation and shortages diminish quality of life.[39][40][41][42][43][44] As a result of discontent with the government, for the first time since 1999, the opposition was elected to hold the majority in the National Assembly following the 2015 parliamentary election.[45] Following the 2015 National Assembly election, the lame duck National Assembly, consisting of Bolivarian officials, filled the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, the highest court in Venezuela, with Maduro allies.[45][46] The tribunal quickly stripped three opposition lawmakers of their National Assembly seats in early 2016, citing alleged "irregularities" in their elections, thereby preventing an opposition supermajority which would have been able to challenge President Maduro.[45] The tribunal then approved several actions by Maduro and granted him more powers.[45] As protests mounted against Maduro in 2017, he called for a constituent assembly that would draft a new constitution that would replace the 1999 Venezuela Constitution of his predecessor, Hugo Chávez.[47] Many countries considered the election a bid by Maduro to stay in power indefinitely,[48] and over 40 countries stated that they would not recognize the National Constituent Assembly.[49][50] The Democratic Unity Roundtable—the opposition to the incumbent ruling party—also boycotted the election claiming that the Constituent Assembly was "a trick to keep [the incumbent ruling party] in power."[51] Since the opposition did not participate in the election, the incumbent Great Patriotic Pole, dominated by the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, won almost all seats in the assembly by default.[52][53][54] On 8 August 2017, the Constituent Assembly declared itself to be the government branch with supreme power in Venezuela, banning the opposition-led National Assembly from performing actions that would interfere with the assembly while continuing to pass measures in "support and solidarity" with President Maduro, effectively stripping the National Assembly of all its powers.[55]

In the May 2018 elections, the incumbent President Nicolás Maduro was re-elected among various irregularities, which led many to believe that the elections were invalid.[56][57] Paired with views of Maduro's leadership being an ineffective dictatorship,[58][59][60] many politicians both internally and internationally did not believe Maduro was legitimately elected.[61] In the months leading up to his inauguration on 10 January 2019, Maduro was encouraged to not continue as president by nations and bodies including the Lima Group (excluding Mexico), the United States, and the OAS, with this pressure being increased as the new National Assembly of Venezuela was sworn in on 5 January 2019.[62][63][64] The National Assembly was disavowed by Maduro in 2017[65] and is seen as "the only democratically elected institution left in the country".[66]

Maduro's election was supported by Russia, China, and ALBA.[67][68] Internally, Maduro has received the support of the pro-government Constituent Assembly, while Guaidó is backed by the pro-opposition National Assembly.

Events

Reports of defections

The first major signs of impending crisis showed when a Supreme Court Justice and Electoral Justice seen as close to Maduro defected to the United States just a few days before 10 January inauguration. The justice, Christian Zerpa [es] said that Maduro is "incompetent" and "illegitimate".[62][63][69]

It was also reported that United States intelligence had learned that one of Maduro's close top officials and Minister of Defense, Vladimir Padrino López, had requested for Maduro to step down, threatening to resign if Maduro did not.[70] However, Padrino López would later pledge loyalty to Maduro, stating he would give his life for him and the Bolivarian revolution.[71]

International lack of recognition

Multiple countries and supranational bodies joined the National Assembly in rejecting the legitimacy of Maduro retaining power, with several cutting diplomatic ties to Venezuela and even more calling for Maduro to step down or be removed.[63][64][70][37] Others, such as ALBA, have supported Maduro and called on the opposition to accept his reelection.[67] Maduro responded to the accusations levied against him by denouncing them as "US imperialism" and compared the alleged foreign interference to colonialism.[37]

Open cabildo

Agreement approved by the National Assembly to declare the usurpation of the presidency by Nicolás Maduro on 15 January.

Juan Guaidó, the newly appointed President of the National Assembly of Venezuela, began motions to form a transitional government shortly after assuming his new role in the National Assembly on 5 January 2019; stating that whether Maduro began his new term on the 10th or not, the country would not have a legitimately elected president.[72] On behalf of the National Assembly, he stated that the country had fallen into a de facto dictatorship and had no leader,[73] declaring that the nation face a state of emergency.[74] It was in this statement that he first called for "soldiers who wear their uniforms with honor to step forward and enforce the Constitution [and asking] citizens for confidence, strength and to accompany us on this path".[74]

He then announced that he would hold an open cabildo on 11 January.[75] This was hosted as a rally in the streets of Caracas, and here the National Assembly announced that Guaidó was assuming the role of acting president under the Constitution of Venezuela, also announcing plans to remove President Maduro.[76]

The open cabildo also had provisions to allow for leaders of other political parties, trade unions, women, and the students of Venezuela to be given a voice. Other parties did not speak of their divide, but of what they saw as a failed Bolivarian revolution that needed to end. The students were represented by student president of the Universidad Central de Venezuela Rafaela Requesens, and Marlon Díaz. Requesens specifically called for unity, for Venezuelans of all political affiliations to work with the international bodies who supported them in order for Maduro to step down. José Elías Torres of the Unified Venezuelan Workers' Federation read a manifesto of their beliefs and declared his allegiance to Guaidó.[76]

Maduro's initial response to the cabildo was to call the opposition a group of "little boys", describing Guaidó as "immature". More threateningly, the Minister for Prison Services, Iris Varela, said that she had already picked out a prison cell for Guaidó and asked him to be quick naming his cabinet so she could prepare prisons for them as well.[77]

National Assembly declares Guaidó president

Following Guaidó's speech, the National Assembly initially released a press statement saying that Guaidó had taken the role of acting president. A later statement replaced this one and the position of Guaidó was clarified, reinforcing that he was recognized as acting president but that the legislature also needed to re-assume their power.[78] This motion was not considered a coup d'état based on the acknowledged "illegitimacy" of Maduro by many governments, and the constitutional processes that the National Assembly were following.[79] Specifically, they invoked Articles 233, 333, and 350.[76] On this day, Guaidó received a letter from the President of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice of Venezuela in exile, which is based in Panama, requesting him to become acting president of Venezuela.[80]

Guaidó announced change, and nationwide protests to be held on 23 January, inciting a slogan chant of ¡Sí, se puede![79] This date is the same day as the removal of Marcos Pérez Jiménez in 1958.[81] The National Assembly worked with the Venezuelan Liberation Front to create a plan for the protests and marches, organizing a unified national force.[36] It was also revealed on 11 January that plans involved offering incentives for the armed forces to disavow Maduro.[82]

The Organization of American States was the first to give official support to this action, stating that "[they] 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".[79] Later on that day, Brazil and Colombia gave their support to Guaidó as acting president of Venezuela.[83]

Venezuelan political experts, like David Smilde from the Washington Office on Latin America, suggested that it would enrage Maduro, who already called the National Assembly traitors for not attending his inauguration, and who might arrest or attack more of its members. A friend of Guaidó, in response, said that they were aware of the risks but believed it needed to be done to allow democracy to reappear in Venezuela.[79]

Support

Nations recognizing Juan Guaidó as acting president
     Venezuela
     Recognize Guaidó

Various countries and organizations began to reaffirm their support for the National Assembly, seen as the "only legitimate democratic body" in Venezuela. Businesses also took the introduction of a potential new government as a sign to stop discussions and negotiations with Maduro since they were now able to access a government with democratic backing. These organizations included the Venezuela Creditors Committee, a fund bank that can give loans to the ailing nation and which could not finalize an agreement with Maduro in 2017,[84] and all of the other businesses represented by the OFAC union. These include Electricidad de Caracas, providing electrical power to the capital and surrounding areas, and PDVSA, the nation's largest oil and gas company, which is, in turn, the nation's largest industry.[32]

The Catholic Church in Venezuela, organized by the Episcopal Conference of Venezuela, released a statement by Monsignor Ovidio Pérez Morales on 15 January 2019 saying "The Church in Venezuela, united to its Bishops in communion with the Pope, declare the socialist-communist regime illegitimate and stand in solidarity with the Venezuelan people to rescue democracy, freedom and justice. Trusting in God, they support the National Assembly".[33]

On 15 January, US President Donald Trump was reported to be deliberating over whether to officially recognize Guaidó as the President,[85] which he did on the next day.[86]

Lima Group

On 11 and 12 January, several nations of the Lima Group began to release statements independent from the international body. These documents all included their nations' agreement to not recognize Maduro and were focused on clarifying individual stances on non-interventionism regarding a separate territorial dispute between Venezuela and Guyana.[87][88][89] Despite this, the Maduro government, via several vice presidential press releases, claimed that these countries had "rectified" themselves to support him as president.[87][90] They had not, with the non-intervention statements seen as a concession to prevent rash action by Maduro after he broadly threatened the group.[87][89] The Venezuelan Foreign Minister, Jorge Arreaza, gave a different statement to the vice presidential office, saying that Venezuela had received diplomatic notices from some Lima Group countries about the original dispute.[87] Panama restated the group's original ninth point, highlighting issues of International Law.[87] Colombia's statement reiterated the group's resolution and pledged to support "the restoration of democracy and constitutional order in Venezuela", as well as saying that they do not have a position on the territorial dispute.[88] Arreaza defied his government by refuting the claims that the Lima Group recognized Maduro's government, as well as doubling Maduro's 48-hour demand period for non-intervention for the remaining countries after it expired. He also promoted peaceful diplomatic discussion with neighboring countries.[91] The group — except for Mexico, which called for non-intervention in Venezuelan internal affairs[92] — continued to back the Guaidó government, with the Foreign Minister of Chile pledging "unlimited support".[93]

Detention of Guaidó

On 13 January 2019, Guaidó was detained by the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN),[94] but was released 45 minutes later.[95] The SEBIN agents who intercepted his car and took him into custody were subsequently fired from their positions.[96][97][98] The Information Minister, Jorge Rodríguez, says that the agents did not have instructions and the arrest was orchestrated by Guaidó as a "media stunt" to gain popularity; BBC correspondents say that it appeared to be a genuine ambush and was used to send a message to those who oppose Maduro.[96] Luis Almagro, head of the OAS, condemned the arrest, which he called a "kidnapping", while Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, also denounced it, referring to it as an "arbitrary detention".[99]

Two journalists were also detained on-air while covering SEBIN's actions towards Guaidó: Beatriz Adrián of Caracol Televisión and Osmary Hernández of CNN.[100]

Guaidó defines himself as president

In a speech after his detention, Guaidó said that Rodríguez's admission that the intelligence agents acted independently showed how the government had lost control of its security forces, also calling Miraflores (the presidential house and office) "desperate".[96][99] In a later announcement on 13 January, Guaidó declared himself as acting president, his most straightforward claim to the position.[101]

Minister of Defense pledges loyalty to Maduro

During a cadena nacional issued by Maduro on 15 January 2019, Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino López swore loyalty to Maduro, stating directly to him that members of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces of Venezuela (FANB) "are willing to die to defend that Constitution, those people, those institutions and you as supreme magistrate, president of Venezuela ... We are not an imperialist, colonialist FANB, we are a liberating FANB".[71]

However, on 17 January, the Venezuelan army stationed in Peru announced their succession, saying that they do not recognise Maduro as their president or leader.[102]

Censorship

Several sources have reported that the internet access to Wikipedia (in all languages) is currently blocked in Venezuela.[103][104] The block was reported after Guaidó's page on the Spanish Wikipedia was updated to add his claim of acting president and the edit war that followed, with 37 edits and reverts in just over two hours.[105] The block mainly affects the users of CANTV, the national telecommunications company and largest provider of the country.[106] Several media outlets have suggested that Wikipedia directly or indirectly was taking sides with either group.[107][108][109]

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