Venezuela is in the depths of political crisis after an opposition leader declared himself President and seven people were killed in violent street protests.
Juan Guaido, leader of the centre-left Popular Will party, was cheered by thousands in Caracas as he called an end to Nicolas Maduro’s ‘dictatorship’ but then slipped away amid speculation he would be arrested.
The country’s top military command has so far remained silent but is expected to remain loyal to Maduro, who took aim at Donald Trump after Washington recognised Guaido as the country’s new leader.
Trump’s announcement has prompted a growing international rift as other Latin American nations backed Guaido but Russia, China and Turkey stood firm behind Maduro.
Socialist leader Maduro has vowed to fight on despite the protests, sky-high inflation and food shortages which have prompted millions to flee the country in recent years.
Lighting a fire: A masked demonstrator in Caracas holds bottles as a fire burns in the street during mass protests yesterday, which saw an opposition leader declare himself President and seven people killed in violence across the country
Rivals: Juan Guaido (left), President of Venezuela’s National Assembly, who has declared himself the country’s interim President, and current leader Nicolas Maduro (right), who has vowed to fight on and hit back at Donald Trump
Huge crowds: Opposition supporters carry letters to form the word ‘Democracy’ at the huge rally in Caracas where Juan Guaido, President of Venezuela’s National Assembly, declared himself interim leader
Eruption of violence: A demonstrator throws back a gas canister in Caracas while clashing with security forces during a rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government
Injured: A protester is left with blood on his face after the clashes in Caracas which saw tens of thousands of Venezuelans gather to protest against Nicolas Maduro’s rule
Four people were killed by gunfire in the city of Barinas as the National Guard broke up an opposition rally while three others were killed amid unrest in the border city of San Cristobal.
Which countries are supporting Venezuela’s opposition?
Supporting ‘interim’ President Juan Guaido:
- United States
- Costa Rica
Supporting Nicolas Maduro:
In Caracas Guaido declared himself interim President, calling it the only way to end Maduro’s rule but warning demonstrators: ‘We know that this will have consequences.’
The crisis has become a geopolitical battle after the U.S., Canada and another dozen countries including Brazil, Colombia and Argentina quickly announced that they supported Guaido’s claim to the presidency.
President Donald Trump promised to use the ‘full weight’ of U.S. economic and diplomatic power to push for the restoration of Venezuela’s democracy.
‘The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law,’ Trump said.
The European Union stopped short of recognising Guaido as President but said his ‘civil rights, freedom and safety’ had to be ensured and called for the ‘restoration of democracy’ in Venezuela.
French President Emmanuel Macron called Maduro’s election last year ‘illegitimate’ and said Europe supported ‘democracy’, while Portugal’s foreign minister came closest to calling for Maduro’s departure, saying he should ‘understand that his time has come to an end’.
However Trump’s announcement has put him at odds with Russia and China, as Beijing – which has given Venezuela $65billion in loans and investment – called for Washington to stay out of the crisis.
Moscow has remained resolute in support of Maduro, calling Washington’s intervention a ‘path to lawlessness and bloodshed’ as one legislator called Guaido’s declaration ‘an attempted coup’ backed by the U.S.
A Kremlin spokesman said: ‘We consider attempted usurpation of power in Venezuela as a breach of the foundations of international law. Maduro is the legitimate head of state.’
Russia has been propping up Maduro’s government with arms deliveries and loans and he visited Moscow last month.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also called Venezuela’s embattled president to voice his support, his office said, while Iran has denounced Guaido’s assertion of power, calling it a ‘coup’.
Lighting a fire: A protester burns a motorcycle during clashes with the security forces in a protest against the government of President Nicolas Maduro
Battle scars: A wounded protester shows the injuries on his back as demonstrators clash with riot police in Caracas yesterday
Hands up: People raise their arms, hold up Venezuela’s flag and take pictures during the opposition rally in Caracas
Violence: Masked and hooded demonstrators throw objects at riot police during clashes in Caracas on Wednesday
Rival rally: President Nicolas Maduro speaks to supporters from a balcony at Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas
Timeline: Venezuela’s relations with the U.S.
1835: Washington establishes diplomatic relations with Venezuela.
1902: President Theodore Roosevelt defuses a crisis in Venezuela after European nations including Britain and Germany imposed a blockade over unpaid debts.
1914: Venezuela opens its first major oilfield.
1942: The country is granted $4million of military equipment under Lend-Lease during World War II.
1950: A U.S. State Department paper says ‘All policies toward Venezuela are affected in greater or less degree by the objective of assuring an adequate supply of petroleum for the U.S.’.
1959: Democratically-elected leader Romulo Betancourt takes power in Venezuela, regarded by the U.S. as an anti-Communist ally during the Cold War.
1973: U.S. backing for a military coup in Chile becomes a symbol of Washington’s interventionism in Latin America.
1974: Venezuela restores diplomatic relations with Washington’s Cold War enemy, Cuba.
1997: Bill Clinton’s White House describes Venezuela as a ‘close’ partner through their oil trade, with a ‘strong mutual commitment to democracy’.
1999: Anti-U.S. socialist leader Hugo Chavez becomes Venezuelan President.
2002: Chavez is briefly toppled by a coup before returning to power. He accuses the United States of involvement in the attempted overthrow.
2006: President Chavez calls George W. Bush ‘the devil’ during a speech at the United Nations.
2009: Barack Obama meets Chavez in Trinidad and Tobago in a bid to improve relations.
2013: Nicolas Maduro becomes Venezuelan President after Chavez dies.
2015: Obama declares Venezuela a security threat and orders sanctions.
2017: Maduro forms a new Constituent Assembly which is not recognised by the United States.
2019: Donald Trump recognises opposition leader Juan Guaido after he declared himself interim President.
Maduro fired back at Trump by breaking diplomatic relations with the U.S., the biggest trading partner for the oil-exporting country, and ordering American diplomats to get out of the country within 72 hours.
Washington has ignored the order, saying Maduro no longer had the ‘legal authority’ to issue it.
President Maduro – who has so far been backed by government-packed courts and a constituent assembly – recalled the long history of heavy-handed U.S. interventions in Latin America as he appealed for support.
‘Don’t trust the gringos,’ he thundered to a crowd of red-shirted supporters gathered at the presidential palace in Caracas.
‘They don’t have friends or loyalties. They only have interests, guts and the ambition to take Venezuela’s oil, gas and gold.’
The countries have clashed frequently since Maduro’s mentor Hugo Chavez – who once called George W. Bush ‘the devil’ – became President in 1999.
Tens of thousands gathered in the capital waving flags and chanting ‘Get out, Maduro!’ for the biggest assault on his rule since a wave of unrest that left more than 120 dead in 2017.
Wednesday’s protests coincided with the anniversary of the 1958 coup that overthrew military dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez.
Hours after most demonstrators went home, violence broke out in Altamira, an upscale zone of Caracas and an opposition stronghold.
Tear gas canisters sent hundreds running and hordes of protesters riding two and three on motorcycles fleeing in panic.
Blocks away, a small group knocked a pair of guardsmen riding tandem off their motorcycle, pelting them with coconuts as they sped down a wide avenue.
Some in the group struck the two guardsmen with their hands while others ran off with their gear and set their motorcycle on fire.
Tensions began ramping up earlier this month as Maduro took the oath of office for a second six-year term won in an election last May that many in the region contend was not free or fair because his strongest opponents were barred from running.
Loyal support: A government supporter holds a sign reading ‘The only president’ while listening to President Nicolas Maduro speaking at the Miraflores Palace
My country: President Nicolas Maduro, flanked by his wife Cilia Flores, holds a Venezuelan flag while speaking from a balcony at Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas
Standing guard: Riot police wear helmets and hold up shields as a fire burns in the street in the Venezuelan state of Tachira
Tear gas: Demonstrators hurl objects at riot police as tear gas fills the streets of Caracas amid nationwide protests yesterday
What side will they take? A heckler beside a group of National Guardsmen blocking a protest march against Nicolas Maduro in Caracas. The military have so far remained behind him
Violent protest: A demonstrator throws back a tear gas canister during a protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas on Wednesday
Caracas in flames: Riot police on a motorcycle drive by a fire during a mass protest in Venezuela’s capital city on Wednesday
The man we want: A person holds a photograph of Guaido during a rally in Santiago by Venezuelans living abroad
Fire and fury: Anti-government protesters burn an effigy of President Nicolas Maduro after a rally demanding his resignation
Venezuela crisis looms over Pope’s trip
Pope Francis has arrived in Panama against the backdrop of the crisis in nearby Venezuela.
The pontiff will address Panama’s President and the region’s bishops today and all eyes will be on whether he refers to the upheaval in Caracas.
Local bishops vocally oppose the socialist regime of President Nicholas Maduro, but the Holy See is keeping up diplomatic relations with the government.
The Vatican’s charge d’affairs went to Maduro’s inauguration earlier this month.
Francis flew from Rome on Wednesday just as the crisis was erupting in Caracas.
The Pope will also face questions over the U.S.-Mexico border row amid a stand-off over the proposed wall.
The 35-year-old Guaido, a virtually unknown lawmaker at the start of the year, has reignited the hopes of Venezuela’s often beleaguered opposition by taking a rebellious tack amid Venezuela’s crushing economic crisis.
All eyes are on the military, the traditional arbiter of political disputes in Venezuela – and to which Guaido has been targeting his message.
On Monday, a few dozen national guardsmen seized a stockpile of assault rifles in a pre-dawn uprising that was quickly quelled, although residents in a nearby slum showed support for the mutineers by burning cars and stoning security forces.
The protests also came shortly after Venezuela’s Supreme Court – dominated by Maduro loyalists – ordered a criminal investigation of the National Assembly for trying to depose the president.
Some 2.3 million people have fled the country since 2015, according to the United Nations, while the International Monetary Fund says inflation will hit a staggering 10 million percent this year.
Today attention will shift to Washington, where diplomats at the Organization of American States will hold an emergency meeting on the Venezuelan situation.
The debate promises to be charged, and the National Assembly’s newly picked diplomatic envoy will be lobbying to take Venezuela’s seat from Maduro’s ambassador.
UN chief Antonio Guterres appealed for dialogue to avoid the political crisis spiralling out of control, saying he hoped to ‘avoid an escalation that would lead to the kind of conflict that would be a disaster for the people of Venezuela’.
Clashes: Opposition demonstrators clash with security forces during a huge anti-Maduro protest in Caracas yesterday
Breakout of violence: Hooded opposition demonstrators in Caracas use a makeshift shield as they clash with security forces
Time to go: Opposition members shouting slogans against Maduro have been part of re-invigorated opposition hoping to persuade the military and the poor to shift loyalties that until recently looked solidly behind Maduro’s government
Movement in Mexico: Venezuelans protest against President Maduro outside their country’s embassy in Mexico City
Opposition: A demonstrator with a poster board showing the prices of basic food is one of tens of thousands who have turned out against Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas
Support from Santiago: Venezuelans living in Chile hold a rally to show support for the self-proclaimed president of Venezuela, Juan Guaido, at the Plaza Italia in Santiago