After years of unrest and economic crisis in Venezuela, the leader of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, has declared himself acting president as of January 23, 2019. This unprecedented move has occurred in response to the swearing-in of President Nicolás Maduro to a second term of office on January 10. Both Maduro’s political opponents and international leaders have condemned the election, which was marred by a low turnout due to boycotts and the jailing and disqualification of other candidates. Immediately following Guaidó’s challenge to Maduro’s power, the United States announced its support for Guaidó as the legitimate interim president of Venezuela.
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As of February, it was estimated that 3.4 million Venezuelans have been forced to flee the harsh and unstable conditions of their country. Until the political impasse is resolved, aid cannot reach hungry and sick people. Maduro has rejected humanitarian aid offered by the US and other countries. Venezuelan citizens have suffered for years under a hyperinflated economy that has made basic goods like food unaffordable. In March, the country faced a six-day power outage that led to widespread looting and violence. Problems for the oil-abundant country began with Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, whose government’s excessive borrowing and other imprudent economic policies laid the groundwork for collapse. In recent years, drops in the price of oil--Venezuela’s main export--made it impossible for the government to repay its foreign debt. The government imposed socialist policies in response, which led to inflation. Maduro claims that the humanitarian crisis is exaggerated, and that the US’s involvement is motivated by imperialist pursuits.
Maduro’s retention of office is largely attributed to the fact that all legislative power has been granted to the governing bodies that support him, including Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal (the highest court), the National Electoral Council (one of their five branches of government), and the military. Juan Guaidó’s National Assembly, which is an elected coalition that was formed in 2015 with the intent of recalling Maduro, was effectively stripped of power under Maduro’s government.
The US has since placed numerous sanctions on Venezuela in attempts to pressure Maduro to step down. The Trump administration has stated that it intends to remove Maduro through diplomatic and economic means, and has expressed an openness to the use of military force if necessary. Although the US government leads a group of more than 50 countries that back opposition to Maduro, it has reportedly struggled to maintain and add to that support. Maduro clings to power with help most notably from Russia and China, who have provided military and economic resources.
Although Guaidó’s declaration of power in January was a bold move, he has since struggled to gain momentum, as he has no means of enforcing his presidency. In the meantime, he has been appearing at demonstrations across the country in a campaign-style tour seeking support. It is unclear as to how he will develop a governing platform moving forward, or if he will at all.