The Trump administration is considering recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s “legitimate president,” according to a CNN report on Tuesday.
CNN’s report cited three unnamed sources and also raised the possibility of renewed sanctions being imposed in the near future, including on Venezuela’s oil sector.
Economist and pro-opposition political analyst Francisco Rodriguez explained on Twitter that “US jurisprudence forces courts to recognize the government established by [US] foreign policy.” Such a move, Rodriguez added, would potentially give a parallel opposition government control over international assets such as CITGO, as well as proceeds from oil sales to the US and other countries that recognize such a government.
In a public assembly on January 11, National Assembly President Guaido declared himself ready to “take over” the responsibilities of Venezuela’s executive power. While US authorities have so far yet to take the step, figures such as OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro have started referring to Guaido as “interim president.”
The opposition-controlled National Assembly approved a motion Tuesday claiming to invoke article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution, characterizing Maduro’s mandate as “illegitimate” and the presidency “vacant.”. The legislature has, however, been declared “null and void” since 2016 by judicial authorities for flouting a court order to unseat three lawmakers under investigation for voter fraud.
Guaido, who was briefly detained on Sunday, and other opposition leaders have repeatedly urged the Venezuelan armed forces to back their attempts to remove the Maduro government. According to Reuters, the Venezuelan opposition is currently drafting a bill titled ‘Law Governing the Transition to Democracy’ which includes incentives for military officers who turn on the Maduro government.
US Vice-President Mike Pence reportedly held a phone conversation with Guaido on Tuesday, in which he praised the opposition leader’s “courageous leadership” and pledged continued US support “until democracy is restored.”
National Security Advisor John Bolton also weighed in, writing in a tweet, “the US supports [the National Assembly’s] important decisions.” Echoing previous statements by US leaders, Bolton also urged the military to “uphold the rule of law.”
Additionally, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Florida Senator Marco Rubio voiced their support for the Venezuelan opposition’s efforts on social media. Pompeo endorsed the “transfer of executive responsibilities to the National Assembly,” while Rubio stated that he had asked Trump to recognize Guaido as the “legitimate transitional president.”
Venezuela was also a topic in the meeting between presidents of US-allied Argentina and Brazil, Mauricio Macri and Jair Bolsonaro. The far-right Brazilian leader lauded Argentina and Brazil’s “shared values” in their hardline approach regarding Venezuela, while Macri called Maduro a “dictator.” On a different note, Mexico has offered to mediate between the Venezuelan government and the opposition. The new leftist government of Lopez Obrador has has vowed to return Mexican foreign policy to its long-held tradition of non-interference in other nations’ internal affairs.
Venezuelan authorities have slammed US efforts, with Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza criticizing Secretary Pompeo on Twitter for “openly promoting a coup, citing a constitution he clearly does not know.”
“Venezuela demands respect for its democracy. While President Maduro calls for respectful dialogue with the US, Secretary Pompeo and other extremist spokesmen look the destabilize the country and incite violence. The Venezuelan people will defend its sovereignty and its constitution,” Arreaza wrote in a tweet.
Arreaza likewise denounced US-led regime change efforts in a meeting with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in New York.
“We have denounced it [regime change] and will continue doing so. The goal is to strangle the Venezuelan economy and with this kind of show produce a change of government,” he told reporters.
Washington’s actions additionally came under fire from Moscow, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stating on Wednesday that rumors of the US recognizing Guaido as president were “alarming.”
President Maduro, during his annual address on Monday, also denounced the opposition’s maneuvers.
“The right-wing is looking, as always, to take political power through an adventure, improvisation, a coup with a constitutional varnish,” he stated.
The Venezuelan president also announced large-scale civilian-military exercises due to take place between February 10 and 15, dates chosen to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the landmark Angostura Congress in which Simon Bolivar delivered one of his immortal speeches.
Meanwhile, January 23 could prove to be the next flashpoint in the escalating political standoff, with both pro- and anti-government mobilizations set to take place during the holiday commemorating the fall of the Perez Jimenez dictatorship in 1958.
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