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2019 Venezuelan presidential crisis
|2019 Venezuelan presidential crisis|
|Part of the Crisis in Venezuela|
|Date||10 January 2019 (2019-01-10) – ongoing
(4 months and 14 days)
|Methods||Protests, support campaigns, foreign diplomatic pressure and international sanctions|
|Parties to the civil conflict|
The process and results of the May 2018 Venezuelan presidential election were widely disputed. The opposition-majority National Assembly declared Maduro's presidency illegitimate on the day of his second inauguration, citing the 1999 Constitution of Venezuela enacted under Hugo Chávez, Maduro's predecessor. The body declared that his reelection was invalid, and declared its president, Juan Guaidó, to be acting president of the country. The pro-Maduro Supreme Tribunal of Justice said the National Assembly's declaration was unconstitutional.
Minutes after Maduro took the oath as president of Venezuela, the Organization of American States (OAS) approved a resolution in a special session of its Permanent Council declaring Maduro's presidency illegitimate and urging new elections. Special meetings of the OAS on 24 January and in the United Nations Security Council on 26 January were held but no consensus was reached. Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres called for dialogue.
Maduro's government states that the crisis is a "coup d'état led by the United States to topple him and control the country's oil reserves." Guaidó denies the coup allegations, saying peaceful volunteers back his movement. As of May 2019, Guaidó has been recognized as the acting president of Venezuela by 54 countries. Internationally, support has followed traditional geopolitical lines, with allies China, Cuba, Iran, Russia, Syria, and Turkey supporting Maduro, and the US, Canada, and most of Western Europe supporting Guaidó as acting president.
Since 2010, Venezuela has been suffering a socioeconomic crisis under Nicolás Maduro (and briefly under his predecessor, Hugo Chávez), as rampant crime, hyperinflation and shortages diminish the quality of life. As a result of discontent with the government, the opposition was elected to hold the majority in the National Assembly for the first time since 1999 following the 2015 parliamentary election. After the election, the lame duck National Assembly—consisting of Bolivarian officials—filled the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, the highest court in Venezuela, with Maduro allies. The tribunal 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.
In January 2016, the National Assembly declared a "health humanitarian crisis" given the "serious shortage of medicines, medical supplies and deterioration of humanitarian infrastructure", asking Maduro's government to "guarantee immediate access to the list of essential medicines that are basic and indispensable and that must be accessible at all times".
The tribunal approved several actions by Maduro and granted him more powers in 2017. As protests mounted against Maduro, he called for a constituent assembly that would draft a new constitution to replace the 1999 Venezuela Constitution created under Chávez. Many countries considered these actions a bid by Maduro to stay in power indefinitely, and over 40 countries stated that they would not recognize the 2017 Constituent National Assembly (ANC). The Democratic Unity Roundtable—the opposition to the incumbent ruling party—boycotted the election, saying that the ANC was "a trick to keep [the incumbent ruling party] in power". 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. On 8 August 2017, the ANC 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.
Maduro disavowed the National Assembly in 2017; as of 2018, some considered the National Assembly the only "legitimate" institution left in the country,[a] and human rights organizations said there were no independent institutional checks on presidential power.[b]
2018 election and calls for transitional government
In February 2018, Maduro called for presidential elections four months before the prescribed date. He was declared the winner in May 2018 after multiple major opposition parties were banned from participating, among other irregularities; many said the elections were invalid. Politicians both internally and internationally said Maduro was not legitimately elected, and considered him an ineffective dictator. In the months leading up to his 10 January 2019 inauguration, Maduro was pressured to step down by nations and bodies including the Lima Group (excluding Mexico), the United States, and the OAS; this pressure was increased after the new National Assembly of Venezuela was sworn in on 5 January 2019. Between the May 2018 presidential election and Maduro's inauguration, there were calls to establish a transitional government.
In December 2018, Guaidó had traveled to Washington D.C. and met with OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, and then on 14 January 2019 to Colombia for a Lima Group meeting, in which Maduro's mandate was rejected. According to an article in El País, the January Lima Group meeting and the stance taken by Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland were key. El País describes Donald Trump's election—coinciding with the election of conservative presidents in Colombia and Brazil, along with deteriorating conditions in Venezuela—as "a perfect storm", with decisions influenced by U.S. officials including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton, and legislators Mario Díaz-Balart and Marco Rubio. Venezuelans Carlos Vecchio, Julio Borges and Gustavo Tarre were consulted, and the Trump administration decision to back Guaidó formed on 22 January, according to El País. Díaz-Balart said that the decision was the result of two years of planning.
Justification for the challenge
The Venezuelan opposition bases its actions on the 1999 Venezuelan Constitution, specifically Articles 233, 333 and 350. The first paragraph of Article 233 states: "The President of the Republic shall become permanently unavailable to serve by reason of any of the following events: death; resignation; removal from office by decision of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice; permanent physical or mental disability; ... abandonment of his position, duly declared by the National Assembly; and recall by popular vote."
Later paragraphs describe what to do in the event of a vacancy due to "permanent unavailability to serve", depending on when the vacancy occurs:
- Prior to elected President's inauguration, "a new election ... shall be held within thirty consecutive days ... The President of the National Assembly shall take charge of the Presidency of the Republic".
- During the first four years of President's six-year term, "a new election ... shall be held within thirty consecutive days ... The Executive Vice-President shall take charge of the Presidency of the Republic".
- During the last two years of President's six-year term, "the Executive Vice-President shall take over the Presidency of the Republic until such term is completed".
Article 233 was invoked after death of Hugo Chávez, which took place soon after his inauguration, and extraordinary elections were called within thirty days. In 2019, the National Assembly invoked Article 233 due to abandonment of [President's] position, arguing that "de facto dictatorship" means no democratic leader. Invoked by the National Assembly, Guaidó was declared acting president until elections could be held; Diego A. Zambrano, an assistant professor of law at Stanford Law School, says that "Venezuelan lawyers disagree on the best reading of this provision. Some argue Guaidó can serve longer if the electoral process is scheduled within a reasonable time". The National Assembly announced that it will designate a committee to appoint a new National Electoral Council, in anticipation of free elections.
Article 333 calls for citizens to restore and enforce the Constitution if it is not followed. Article 350 calls for citizens to "disown any regime, legislation or authority that violates democratic values". The National Assembly argues that both the national and international community must unite behind a transitional government that will guarantee humanitarian aid, bring about the restoration of rule of law in Venezuela, and will hold democratic elections.
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 the 10 January 2019 second inauguration of Nicolás Maduro. The justice, Christian Zerpa, said that Maduro was "incompetent" and "illegitimate". Minutes after Maduro took the oath as president of Venezuela, the OAS approved a resolution in a special session of its Permanent Council declaring Maduro's presidency illegitimate and urging new elections. Maduro's election was supported by Turkey, Russia, China, and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA); other small Caribbean nations reliant on economic assistance from the Maduro government (such as Dominica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Trinidad and Tobago) attended his inauguration.
Maduro's government stated that the positions against him were the "result of imperialism perpetrated by the United States and allies" that put Venezuela "at the centre of a world war".
Juan Guaidó, the newly appointed President of the National Assembly of Venezuela, began motions to form a provisional government shortly after assuming his new role on 5 January 2019, stating that whether or not Maduro began his new term on the 10th, the country would not have a legitimately elected president in either case. On behalf of the National Assembly, he stated that the country had fallen into a de facto dictatorship and had no leader, declaring that the nation faced a state of emergency. He called for "soldiers who wear their uniforms with honor to step forward and enforce the Constitution", and asked "citizens for confidence, strength, and to accompany us on this path".
Guaidó announced a public assembly, referred to as an open cabildo, on 11 January—a rally in the streets of Caracas, where the National Assembly announced that Guaidó was assuming the role of the acting president under the Constitution of Venezuela and announcing plans to remove President Maduro. Leaders of other political parties, trade unions, women, and the students of Venezuela were given a voice at the rally; other parties did not speak of a divide, but of what they saw as a failed Bolivarian Revolution that needed to end.
Maduro's response was to call the opposition a group of "little boys", describing Guaidó as "immature". The Minister for Prison Services, Iris Varela, threatened that she had picked out a prison cell for Guaidó and asked him to be quick in naming his cabinet so she could prepare prison cells for them as well.
Following Guaidó's speech, the National Assembly released a press statement saying that Guaidó had assumed the role of acting president. A later statement clarified the position of Guaidó as "willing to assume command ... only possible with the help of Venezuelans". The opposition did not consider this a coup d'état based on the acknowledged "illegitimacy" of Maduro by many governments, and the constitutional processes that the National Assembly said they were following, specifically invoking Articles 233, 333, and 350 of the Constitution. The president of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice of Venezuela in exile (based in Panama) wrote to Guaidó, requesting him to become acting president of Venezuela.
On 15 January 2019, the National Assembly approved legislation to work with dozens of foreign countries to request that these nations freeze Maduro administration bank accounts. Guaidó wrote a 15 January 2019 opinion piece in The Washington Post entitled "Maduro is a usurper. It's time to restore democracy in Venezuela"; he outlined Venezuela's erosion of democracy and his reasoning for the need to replace Maduro on an interim basis according to Venezuela's constitution.
Guaidó announced nationwide protests to be held on 23 January—the same day as the removal of Marcos Pérez Jiménez in 1958—using a slogan chant of ¡Sí se puede!. The National Assembly worked with a coalition (Frente Amplio Venezuela Libre) to create a plan for the demonstrations, organizing a unified national force. On 11 January, plans to offer incentives for the armed forces to disavow Maduro were revealed.
OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro was the first to give official support to this action, tweeting "We 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." Later that day, Brazil and Colombia gave their support to Guaidó as acting president of Venezuela.
Guaidó was detained on 13 January by the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN) and released 45 minutes later. The SEBIN agents who intercepted his car and took him into custody were fired. The Information Minister, Jorge Rodríguez, said the agents did not have instructions and the arrest was orchestrated by Guaidó as a "media stunt" to gain popularity; BBC News correspondents said that it appeared to be a genuine ambush to send a message to the opposition. Almagro condemned the arrest, which he called a "kidnapping", while Pompeo referred to it as an "arbitrary detention".
After his detention, Guaidó said that Rodríguez's admission that the SEBIN agents acted independently showed that the government had lost control of its security forces; he called Miraflores (the presidential house and office) "desperate", and stated: "There is one legitimate president of the National Assembly and of all Venezuela."
On 23 January, Guaidó swore to serve as Acting President. On that morning, Guaidó tweeted, "The world's eyes are on our homeland today." On that day, millions of Venezuelans demonstrated across the country and world in support of Guaidó, described as "a river of humanity", with a few hundred supporting Maduro outside Miraflores. At one end of the blocked street was a stage where Guaidó spoke and took an oath to serve as interim president, swearing himself in.
The Venezuelan National Guard used tear gas on gathering crowds at other locations, and blocked protesters from arriving. Some protests grew violent, and at least 13 people were killed. Michelle Bachelet of the United Nations requested a UN investigation into the security forces' use of violence.
Guaidó began to appoint individuals in late January to serve as aides or diplomats, including Carlos Vecchio as the Guaidó administration's diplomatic envoy to the US, Gustavo Tarre to the OAS, and Julio Borges to represent Venezuela in the Lima Group. He announced that the National Assembly had approved a commission to implement a plan for the reconstruction of Venezuela, called Plan País (Plan for the Country). He offered an Amnesty law, approved by the National Assembly, for military personnel and authorities who help to restore constitutional order. The Statute Governing the Transition to Democracy was approved by the National Assembly on 5 February.
Maduro accused the US of backing a coup, and said he would cut ties with them. He said Guaidó's actions were part of a "well-written script from Washington" to create a puppet state of the United States, and appealed to the American people in a 31 January video, asking them not to convert Venezuela into another Vietnam.
Maduro asked for dialogue with Guaidó, saying "if I have to go meet this boy in the Pico Humboldt at three in the morning I am going, [...] if I have to go naked, I am going, [I believe] that today, sooner rather than later, the way is open for a reasonable, sincere dialogue". He stated he would not leave the presidential office, saying that he was elected in compliance with the Venezuelan constitution. With the two giving speeches to supporters at the same time, Guaidó replied to Maduro's call for dialogue, saying he would not initiate diplomatic talks with Maduro because he believed it would be a farce and fake diplomacy that couldn't achieve anything.
On 18 February, Maduro's government expelled a group of Members of the European Parliament that planned to meet Guaidó. The expulsion was condemned by Guaidó as well as Pablo Casado, president of the Spanish People's Party, and the Colombian government. Maduro's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza defended the expulsions, saying that the constitutional government of Venezuela "will not allow the European extreme right to disturb the peace and stability of the country with another of its gross interventionist actions" and added that "Venezuela must be respected."
Shortages in Venezuela have occurred since 2007 during the presidency of Hugo Chávez. In 2016, the National Assembly of Venezuela declared a humanitarian crisis, asking Maduro's government to provide access to essential medicines and medical supplies. Before the presidential crisis, the Maduro government denied several offers of aid, stating that there was not a humanitarian crisis and that such claims were used to justify foreign intervention. Maduro's refusal of aid worsened the effects of Venezuela's crisis. During the presidential crisis, Maduro initially refused aid, stating that Venezuela is not a country of "beggars".
Guaidó made bringing humanitarian aid to the country a priority. In early February, Maduro prevented the American-sponsored aid from entering Venezuela via Colombia, and Venezuela's communications minister, Jorge Rodriguez, said there was a plot between Colombia, the CIA and exiled Venezuelan politician Julio Borges to oust Maduro. Humanitarian aid intended for Venezuela was also stockpiled on the Brazilian border, and two indigenous Pemon people were killed as they attempted to block military vehicles from entering the area, when members of armed forces loyal to Maduro fired upon them with live ammunition.
Guaidó issued an ultimatum to the Venezuelan Armed Forces, stating that humanitarian aid will enter Venezuela on 23 February and that the armed forces "will have to decide if it will be on the side of the Venezuelans and the Constitution or the usurper". With what he declared was the help of the Venezuelan military, Guaidó defied the restriction imposed by the Maduro administration on him leaving Venezuela, secretly crossed the border, and appeared at the Venezuela Aid Live concert in Cúcuta, Colombia on 22 February, also to be present for the planned delivery of humanitarian aid. Testing Maduro's authority, he was met by presidents Iván Duque of Colombia, Sebastián Piñera from Chile, and Mario Abdo Benítez from Paraguay, as well as the OAS Secretary General Almagro.
On 23 February, trucks with humanitarian aid attempted to enter Venezuela from Brazil and Colombia; the attempts failed, with only one truck able to deliver aid. At the Colombia–Venezuela border, the caravans were tear-gassed or shot at with rubber bullets by Venezuelan personnel. The National Guard repressed demonstrations on the Brazilian border and colectivos attacked protesters near the Colombian border, leaving at least four dead, and more than 285 injured.
Guaidó traveled from Cúcuta to Bogotá for a 24 February meeting with US vice president Pence, and a 25 February meeting of the Lima Group. The group urged the International Criminal Court to pursue charges of crimes against humanity for the Maduro administration's use of violence against civilians and blockade of humanitarian aid.
Pence did not rule out the use of US military force. The Venezuelan government responded saying that Pence was trying to order others to take the country's assets, and saying that its basic rights were being disregarded in a campaign to unseat Maduro. Brazil's vice president said it would not permit its territory to be used to invade Venezuela, and the European Union cautioned against the use of military force. The Lima Group rejected the use of force. The US FAA warned pilots not to fly below 26,000 feet over Venezuela, and US military officials said they had flown reconnaissance flights off the coast of Venezuela to gather classified intelligence about Maduro.
From Bogotá, Guaidó embarked on a regional tour to meet with the presidents of Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, and Ecuador, to discuss ways to rebuild Venezuela and defeat Maduro. Guaidó's trip was approved by Venezuela's National Assembly, as required by the Constitution of Venezuela, but he faced the possibility of being imprisoned when returning to Venezuela because of the travel restriction placed upon him by the Maduro administration. He re-entered Venezuela on 4 March, via Simón Bolívar International Airport in Maiquetía, and was received at the airport by diplomats[c] and in Caracas by a crowd of supporters. German ambassador Daniel Kriener was accused of interference in internal affairs and expelled from Venezuela because of his role in helping Guaidó re-enter.
In March 2019, Venezuela experienced a near total electrical blackout, and lost 150,000 barrels per day in crude oil production during the blackout. (Full recovery of oil production was expected to take months, but by April, Venezuela's exports were steady at a million barrels daily, "partially due to inventory drains".)
Maduro accused the United States of "masterminding a 'demonic' plot to force him from power" according to The Guardian. Maduro prosecutor Tarek Saab called for an investigation of Guaidó, alleging that he had "sabotaged" the electric sector. Guaidó said that Venezuela's largest-ever power outage was "the product of the inefficiency, the incapability, the corruption of a regime that doesn't care about the lives of Venezuelans", and The Guardian reported that "many specialists believe the calamitous nationwide blackout ... is the result of years of mismanagement, corruption and incompetence".
While Maduro visited hydroelectric facilities in Ciudad Guayana on 16 March, promising to restructure the state-run power company Corpoelec, his Vice President Delcy Rodríguez announced that Maduro would restructure his administration, asking the "entire executive Cabinet to put their roles up for review". Guaidó announced he would embark on a tour of the country beginning 16 March, to organize committees for Operation Freedom with the goal to claim the presidential residence, Miraflores Palace. From the first rally in Carabobo state, he said, "We will be in each state of Venezuela and for each state we have visited the responsibility will be yours, the leaders, the united, [to] organize ourselves in freedom commands."
On 12 March, the National Assembly approved cutting Venezuela's oil supply to Cuba, saving about US$2.6M daily, according to Guaidó. In the education sector, AVERU (Venezuelan Association of University Rectors) stated on 18 March that salaries for employees of public universities would be conditioned on the employee recognizing Maduro as president; AVERU said that by placing this condition, the Ministry of University Education was violating the Constitution and university autonomy.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) commissioner Michelle Bachelet's office sent a five-person delegation to Venezuela in March. On 20 March, Bachelet delivered a preliminary oral report before the UN Human Rights Council, in which she outlined a "devastating and deteriorating" human rights situation in Venezuela, expressed concern that sanctions would worsen the situation, and called on authorities to show a true commitment to recognizing and resolving the situation.
Roberto Marrero—Guaidó's chief of staff and Leopoldo López's attorney—was arrested by SEBIN during a raid on his home on 21 March. The US had repeatedly warned Maduro not to go after Guaidó; Haaretz reported that the arrest of Guaidó's number-two person was a test of the US. The United States Department of the Treasury responded by placing sanctions on the Venezuelan bank BANDES and its subsidiaries, in direct response to Marrero's arrest.
Elvis Amoroso, comptroller for the Maduro administration, alleged in March that Guaidó had not explained how he paid for his February 2019 Latin American trip, and said Guaidó would be barred from running for public office for fifteen years. The comptroller general is not a judicial body; according to constitutional lawyer José Vicente Haro, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in 2011 that an administrative body cannot disallow a public servant from running. Constitutional law expert Juan Manuel Raffalli stated that Article 65 of Venezuela's Constitution provides that such determinations may only be made by criminal courts, after judgment of criminal activity.
Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, announced in March that the Red Cross was preparing to bring humanitarian aid to the country in April to help ease both the chronic hunger and the medical crisis. The Wall Street Journal said that the acceptance of humanitarian shipments by Maduro was his first acknowledgement that Venezuela is "suffering from an economic collapse". After a 9 April meeting with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Maduro indicated, for the first time, that he was prepared to accept international aid. Guaidó called on Venezuelans to "stay vigilant to make sure incoming aid is not diverted for 'corrupt' purposes".
Following the joint report from Human Rights Watch and Johns Hopkins in April 2019, increasing announcements from the United Nations about the scale of the humanitarian crisis, and the softening of Maduro's position on receiving aid, the ICRC tripled its budget for aid to Venezuela. The first Red Cross delivery of supplies for hospitals arrived on 16 April, offering an encouraging sign that the Maduro administration would allow more aid to enter. According to The New York Times, "armed pro-government paramilitaries" fired weapons to disrupt the first Red Cross delivery, and officials associated with Maduro's party told the Red Cross to leave.
According to the Associated Press, having long denied that there was a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, Maduro positioned the delivery "as a necessary measure to confront punishing U.S. economic sanctions". Having "rallied the international community", Guaidó "quickly claimed credit for the effort".
TSJ supreme justice Maikel Moreno asked that the Constituent Assembly (ANC), which is controlled by Maduro loyalists, remove Guaidó's parliamentary immunity as president of the National Assembly, moving the Maduro administration a step closer towards prosecuting Guaidó. Supporters of Guaidó disagree that the Maduro-backed institutions have the authority to ban Guaidó from leaving the country, and consider acts of the ANC "null and void". The Venezuelan Constitution provides that only the National Assembly can bring the President to trial by approving the legal proceeding in a "merit hearing". On 2 April, after the ANC voted to remove his parliamentary immunity, Guaidó promised to continue fighting "Maduro’s 'cowardly, miserable and murderous' regime".
On 9 April, the OAS voted 18 to 9, with six abstentions, to accept Guaidó's envoy, Gustavo Tarre Briceño, as the ambassador from Venezuela until new elections can be held. The permanent council approved a text stating that "Nicolas Maduro's presidential authority lacks legitimacy and his designations for government posts, therefore, lack the necessary legitimacy." Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Dominica, Grenada, Mexico, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela voted against the change. Maduro's administration responded calling Tarre a "loud-mouth political usurper" and the decision a "criminal and rampant violation of international law and the OAS Charter", saying they do not intend to respect decisions made by Tarre. The nomination was accepted 20 days before the deadline on Venezuela leaving the organization, after they triggered the process in 2017. According to the Washington Post, this acceptance undermines Maduro's presence internationally and marks a step in the official recognition of Guaidó's government.
In an open assembly celebrating the anniversary of the 19 April 1810 date when the Venezuelan War of Independence began, Guaidó offered the example that organized protests in Sudan led to the replacement of Omar al-Bashir, and called for "the greatest march" in history on 1 May, to "once and for all end this tragedy". Coinciding with his speech, NetBlocks stated that state-run CANTV again blocked access to social media in Venezuela.
Gilber Caro, a National Assembly alternate deputy and member of Guaido's party, Popular Will, was re-arrested by the Venezuelan intelligence services (SEBIN) on 26 April, having been previously accused of plotting against Maduro's administration. Guaidó, the National Assembly, OAS General Secretary Almagro and the UN Human Rights office condemned the new arrest as a violation of parliamentary immunity. Eleven other members of Guaido's team have been summoned to appear before SEBIN.
On 30 April 2019, Leopoldo López—held under house arrest by the Maduro administration—was freed on orders from Guaidó. The two men, flanked by members of the Venezuelan armed forces near La Carlota Air Force Base in Caracas, announced an uprising, stating that this was the final phase of "Operation Freedom".
The United States said Maduro had prepared to leave Venezuela that morning, but Russia and Cuba helped convince him to stay, Maduro and Russia denied that Maduro had plans to leave Venezuela. Maduro was not seen during the day, but he appeared with his Defense Minister Padrino on that evening's televised broadcast, and announced he would replace Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera, the Director General of Venezuela's National Intelligence Service, SEBIN, who had broken with Maduro during the uprising.
Guaidó's call for the largest march in history did not materialize and his supporters were forced to retreat by security forces using tear gas. Colectivos fired on protesters with live ammunition, and one protester was shot in the head and killed. Human Rights Watch "said it believed that security forces fired shotgun pellets at demonstrators and journalists". By the end of the day, one protester had died, and López was at the Spanish embassy, while 25 military personnel sought asylum in the Brazilian embassy in Caracas. CNN reported that the "uprising faltered, having apparently failed to gain the support of senior members of the Venezuelan military".
Guaidó acknowledged he had received insufficient military backing, but added that "Maduro did not have the support nor the respect of the Armed Forces", and called for strikes beginning on 2 May, with the aim of a general strike later in the month. Russia and the U.S. each charged the other with interference in another country's affairs.
Judge Marisela Godoy walked out of a Venezuela Supreme Court (TSJ) hearing on 1 May that was to rule on the events of 30 April without the justices having access to the content of the ruling; Godoy said this had become a customary process in the TSJ, and she encouraged her colleagues to protest.
As of 2 May, there were 230 wounded in the protests, 205 arrests, and four dead. The TSJ issued an arrest warrant for López on 2 May, who exited the gates of the Spanish Embassy, with his wife Lilian Tintori, to speak with reporters, saying that Maduro's days are numbered. Maduro appeared at an army base to praise the loyalty of the forces.
Most of the individuals who were seen with Guaidó during the attempted uprising and many legislators were either arrested or in hiding. In May 2019, the TSJ ordered the prosecution of seven National Assembly members for their actions on 30 April.[d] The rival Constituent Assembly stripped the members of their parliamentary immunity. The National Assembly dismissed the sentence, holding that the members of the Tribunal are illegitimate and that their ruling violates the parliamentary immunity of the deputies.
National Assembly vice president Edgar Zambrano was arrested on 8 May. With the seven deputies charged with "treason, conspiracy, instigation of insurrection, civil rebellion, criminal conspiracy, usurpation of functions, and public instigation to the disobedience of the laws", an El País article stated that the Venezuelan parliament, elected to a majority in the 2015 elections, has been "systematically blocked" and dismembered by "political persecution" of 60% of its elected members.[e] There was no preliminary merit hearing as required by law; an additional three deputies were indicted without a preliminary merit hearing.[f] Three of the recently sanctioned members[g] sought temporary refuge in foreign embassies.
Iván Simonovis—a former police commissioner arrested in 2004 and accused by the Hugo Chávez government of the violence that took place in Caracas during the April 2002 Llaguno Overpass events—left house arrest in May. Guaidó said that security forces loyal to him had released Simonovis, and that Simonovis was freed and pardoned as part of Operation Freedom.
Following the failed military uprising, momentum surrounding Guaidó had subsided and less supporters gathered at demonstrations, with Guaidó resorting to negotiations with Maduro. Guaidó's deputy chief Rafael Del Rosario acknowledged that the debacle on 30 April made the prospect of removing Maduro more difficult. Beginning negotiations was a setback for Guaidó's movement, with the Associated Press stating, "Participation in the mediation effort is a reversal for the opposition, which has accused Maduro of using negotiations between 2016 and 2018 to play for time". According to the New York Times, years of difficulties has made Maduro "adept at managing, if not solving, cascading crises", while Phil Gunson of the International Crisis Group stated that despite facing issues, Maduro "must be very pleased that he is now in the driving seat", with the ability to use the actions of Guaidó and international actors for propaganda purposes.
Representatives of Guaidó and Maduro began mediation with the assistance of the Norwegian Centre for Conflict Resolution (NOREF), with Jorge Rodríguez and Héctor Rodríguez Castro serving as representatives for Maduro while Gerardo Blyde and Stalin González were representatives for Guaidó. Guaidó confirmed that there was an envoy in Norway, but assured that the opposition would not take part in "any kind of false negotiation" and that talks must lead to Maduro's resignation, a transitional administration and free and fair elections.
Recognition, reactions, and public opinion
As of May 2019, Guaidó is recognized as the interim president of Venezuela by 54 countries, "including the US and most Latin American and European countries". Other countries are divided between a neutral position, support for the National Assembly in general without endorsing Guaidó, and support for Maduro's presidency; internationally, support has followed traditional geopolitical lines, with Russia, China, Iran, Syria, and Cuba supporting Maduro, and the US, Canada, and most of Western Europe supporting Guaidó.
The European Parliament recognized Guaidó as interim president. The European Union unanimously recognized the National Assembly, but Italy dissented on recognizing Guaidó. The OAS approved a resolution on 10 January 2019 "to not recognize the legitimacy of Nicolas Maduro's new term". In a 24 January special OAS session, sixteen countries including the US recognized Guaidó as interim president, but they did not achieve the majority needed for a resolution. The United Nations called for dialogue and deescalation of tension, but could not agree on any other path for resolving the crisis. Twelve of the fourteen members of the Lima Group recognize Guaidó; Beatriz Becerra—on the day after she retired as head of the human rights subcommittee for the European Parliament—said that the International Contact Group, jointly sponsored by Uruguay and Mexico, had been of no use and "has been an artifact that has served no purpose since it was created". She said there had been no progress on the 90-day deadline for elections that the group established when it was formed, and she considered that the Contact Group should be terminated and efforts coordinated through the Lima Group.
The Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict stated that there were on average 69 protests daily in Venezuela during the first three months of 2019, for a total of 6,211 protests, representing a significant increase over previous years (157% of protests for the same period in 2018, and 395% relative to the number in 2017).
The Miami Herald reported that the Maduro regime feared a military uprising and defections, had made a dozen arrests, and Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López ordered a counterintelligence effort to locate conspirators or possible defectors. According to France 24, Maduro declared "military deserters who fled to Colombia have become mercenaries" as part of a US-backed coup. Guaidó declared that the opposition had held secret meetings with military officials to discuss the Amnesty Law.
Hugo Carvajal, the head of Venezuela's military intelligence for ten years during Hugo Chávez's presidency and "one of the government's most prominent figures", publicly broke with Maduro and endorsed Guaidó as acting president. During the 30 April 2019 Venezuelan uprising, Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera, the Director General of Venezuela's National Intelligence Service, SEBIN, broke with Maduro, saying it was time to "rebuild the country", and that "scoundrels were plundering the country".
Following the 23 January events, some Venezuelan diplomats in the United States supported Guaidó; the majority returned to Venezuela on Maduro's orders.
Foreign military involvement
In early 2019, with Cuban and Russian-backed security forces in the country, United States military involvement became the subject of speculation. Senior U.S. officials have declared that "all options are on the table", but have also said that "our objective is a peaceful transfer of power".
Maduro announced that state funds would be used to purchase new military equipment, saying "we are going to make enough investment so that Venezuela has all the anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense systems ... even the most modern in the world, Venezuela will have them because Venezuela wants peace".
According to Giancarlo Fiorella, writing in Foreign Affairs, the "loudest calls for intervention are coming not from the White House and its media mouthpieces but from some members of the Venezuelan opposition and from residents of the country desperate for a solution—any solution—to their years-long plight." Fiorella states that "talk of invoking article 187(11) has become commonplace" in Venezuela, adding that "the push for a military intervention in Venezuela is most intense not among hawks in Washington but inside the country itself". Article 187 of the Constitution of Venezuela provides: "It shall be the function of the National Assembly: (11) To authorize the operation of Venezuelan military missions abroad or foreign military missions within the country." In every demonstration summoned by Guaidó, there are numerous signs demanding the application of Article 187. Following the unsuccessful attempt to bring humanitarian aid into Venezuela on 23 February, a political faction supported by National Assembly deputy María Corina Machado began to demand application of Article 187, to "open the way" for "foreign intervention in order to prevent crimes against humanity". Former mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma has also called for application of 187, and the calls for intervention have taken hold outside of the political realm, with a March poll showing 87.5% support for foreign intervention.[h] Guaidó has said he will call for intervention "when the time comes", but in media interviews, he has not stated he supports removing Maduro by force.
According to professor Erick Langer of Georgetown University, "Cuba and Russia have already intervened". A Cuban military presence of at least 15,000 personnel was in Venezuela in early 2018, while estimates ranging from hundreds to thousands of Cuban security forces were reported in 2019. In April 2019, Trump threatened a "full and complete embargo, together with highest-level sanctions" on Cuba if its troops do not cease operations in Venezuela.
Two nuclear weapon-capable Russian planes landed in Venezuela in December 2018 in what Reuters called a "show of support for Maduro's socialist government". On 3 March 2019, Russian Federation Council speaker Valentina Matviyenko told Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodríguez that Russia will make every effort to prevent military intervention in Venezuela and believes that the crisis was artificially created by the US, which can be solved only through dialogue.
According to the Kremlin, there are about 100 Russian military personnel in Venezuela "to repair equipment and provide technical co-operation". On 23 March 2019, two Russian planes landed in Venezuela carrying 99 troops and 35 tonnes of matériel. Alexey Seredin from the Russian Embassy in Caracas said the two planes were "part of an effort to maintain Maduro's defense apparatus, which includes Sukhoi fighter jets and anti-aircraft systems purchased from Russia". On 29 March, a flight simulation center for Russian helicopters was launched in Venezuela, and another flight simulator center is planned, as is a plant to produce Russian arms. Russia supplies arms, special forces, and military advisors to Venezuela, and a base for cyber warfare is under construction on a Venezuelan island.
Diosdado Cabello said the arrival of the planes was approved and authorized by Maduro. Russian Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova also confirmed the presence of military personnel in Venezuela, arguing that the countries had a bilateral agreement on military cooperation signed by Presidents Putin and Chávez in May 2001.
National Assembly deputy Williams Dávila said the National Assembly would investigate the "penetration of foreign forces in Venezuela", since Venezuela's Constitution requires that the legislature authorize foreign military missions and the arrival of Russian military was a "violation of Venezuelan sovereignty". Guaidó declared that foreign soldiers have been imported because Maduro's government does not trust the Venezuelan Armed Forces.
Assets and reserves
Venezuela's third-largest export (after crude oil and refined petroleum products) is gold. The World Gold Council reported in January 2019 that Venezuela's foreign-held gold reserves had fallen by 69% to US$8.4 billion during Maduro's presidency. In 2018, Maduro's government exported $900 million worth of gold out of Venezuela into Erdoğan's Turkey. In April 2019, Rubio warned the United Arab Emirates and Turkey not be "accomplices" in the "outrageous crime" of exporting Venezuela's gold.
In mid-December 2018, a Venezuelan delegation went to London to arrange for the Bank of England to return the $1.2 billion in gold bullion that Venezuela stores at the bank. Unnamed sources told Bloomberg that the Bank of England declined the transfer due to a request from US Secretary of State Pompeo and National Security Adviser Bolton, who wanted to "cut off the regime from its overseas assets". In an interview with the BBC, Maduro asked Britain to return the gold instead of sending humanitarian aid, saying that the gold was "legally Venezuela's, it belongs to the Central Bank of Venezuela" and could be used to solve the country's problems. Guaidó asked the British government to ensure that the Bank of England does not provide the gold to the Maduro government. Maduro also said that US sanctions have frozen $10 billion in Venezuelan overseas accounts.
In mid-February 2019, a National Assembly legislator Angel Alvarado said that eight tonnes of gold worth over US$340 million had been taken from the vault while the head of the Central Bank was abroad. In March, Ugandan investigators reported that the gold could have been smuggled into that country. Government sources said another eight tonnes of gold was taken out of the Central Bank in the first week of April 2019; the government source said that there were 100 tonnes left. The gold was removed while minimal staff was present and the bank was not fully operational because of the ongoing, widespread power outages; the destination of the gold was not known.
In 2009, Venezuela's foreign reserves peaked at US$43 billion; by July 2017, they had fallen below $10 billion "for the first time in 15 years", and as of March 2019, they had dropped to US$8 billion. About two-thirds of Venezuela's reserves are in gold. Part of Venezuela's remaining reserves are held by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in financial instruments called SDRs. In 2018, Venezuela had almost $1 billion in IMF SDRs, but it had drawn US$600 million in one year. To access SDR reserves, IMF rules require than a government be recognized by a majority of IMF members, and there is no majority recognition for either man claiming the Venezuelan presidency; the IMF denied Maduro access to the remaining US$400 million—"one of the regime’s last remaining sources of cash" according to Bloomberg. The IMF has not recognized Guaidó; Ricardo Hausmann—Guaidó's representative recognized by the Inter-American Development Bank—said the "IMF is safeguarding the assets until a new government takes over. 'Those funds will be available when this usurpation ends.'" The US has given Guaidó control of "key Venezuelan bank accounts", and has said it will give Guaidó control of US assets once his administration is in power.
The Portuguese bank Novo Banco stopped Maduro's attempt to transfer over US$1 billion through BANDES subsidiary, Banco Bandes Uruguay, in early 2019. Over two months later, Maduro responded that Portugal had illegally blocked the money, and asked that it be returned to buy food and medicine.
During the crisis in Venezuela, the United States, the European Union, Canada, Mexico, Panama and Switzerland have applied individual sanctions against people associated with Maduro's administration, including government officials, members of the military and security forces, and private individuals alleged to be involved in human rights abuses, corruption, degradation in the rule of law and repression of democracy. Public Radio International (PRI) said the sanctions targeted Maduro and Chavismo "elites", while "they've done little to make an impact on ordinary Venezuelans, whose lives have spiraled into a humanitarian crisis as hyperinflation has driven nearly 3 million to flee." As of 27 March 2018, the Washington Office on Latin America said 78 Venezuelans associated with Maduro had been sanctioned by several countries.
As the humanitarian crisis deepened and expanded, the Trump administration levied more serious economic sanctions against Venezuela, and "Maduro accused the US of plunging Venezuelan citizens further into economic crisis." In January 2019, during the presidential crisis, the United States imposed sanctions on the Venezuelan state-owned oil and natural gas company PDVSA to pressure Maduro to resign. Reuters said the sanctions are expected to reduce Venezuela's ability to purchase food and other imports which could result in further shortages and worsen its economic position. PRI said that "sanctions against PDVSA are likely to yield stronger and more direct economic consequences". Companies including India's Reliance Industries Limited, Russia's Rosneft, Spain's Repsol, and commodity trading companies Trafigura and Vitol continue to supply Venezuela's oil industry as of April 2019.
On 17 April, Reuters reported that Repsol was in discussion with the Trump administration and had suspended its swaps with PDVSA. Stating it was a "sign of the growing dependence of Venezuela's cash-strapped government on Russia", Reuters reported on 18 April 2019 that the Maduro administration was bypassing the sanctions by funneling cash from petroleum sales through Russia's Rosneft. Reliance denied reports that it was in violation of sanctions. Venezuela's oil production in April was eight percent higher than it was in March, during the 2019 Venezuelan blackouts, with most shipments to buyers from India and China.
The United States Department of the Treasury has also placed restrictions on transactions with digital currency emitted by or in the name of the government of Venezuela, referencing "Petro", a crypto-currency also known as petromoneda. and on Venezuela's gold industry. After the detention of Guaidó's chief of staff, Roberto Marrero, in March 2019, the US also sanctioned the Venezuelan bank BANDES and its subsidiaries.
In a speech on 17 April 2019 in Miami which marked the anniversary of the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion, Bolton announced new restrictions on U.S. dealings with the three countries he calls the troika of tyranny—Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela—as "part of a broader set of policies" aimed at "reversing the Obama administration's embrace" of Cuba. Maduro said the sanctions were "totally illegal" and that "Central banks around the world are sacred, all countries respect them. ... To me the empire looks crazy, desperate."
Censorship and media control
Between 12 January and 18 January, internet access to Wikipedia (in all languages) was blocked in Venezuela after Guaidó's page on the Spanish Wikipedia was edited to show him as president.
Later on 21 January, the day of a National Guard mutiny in Cotiza, internet access to some social media was reported blocked for CANTV users. The Venezuelan government denied it had engaged in blocking. During the 23 January protests, widespread internet outages for CANTV users were reported.
Live streams of the National Assembly sessions and Guaidó's speeches have been regularly disrupted for CANTV users. Since 22 January, some radio programs have been ordered off air; other programs have been temporarily canceled or received censorship warnings, including a threat to close private television and radio stations if they recognize Guaidó as acting president or interim president of Venezuela.
The website "Voluntarios X Venezuela" was promoted by Guaidó and the National Assembly to gather volunteers for humanitarian aid. Between 12 and 13 February, CANTV users that tried to access were redirected to a mirror site with a different URL address. The mirror site asked for personal information: names, ID, address and telephone numbers. The phishing website used the .ve domain controlled by Conatel. This manipulation was denounced as a technique to identify dissidents to the government. Following the phishing incident, the official site was completely blocked for CANTV users on 16 February.
The Venezuelan press workers union denounced that in 2019, 40 journalists had been illegally detained as of 12 March; the National Assembly Parliamentary Commission for Media declared that there had been 173 aggressions against press workers as of 13 March. The commission planned to report these aggressions to the International Criminal Court.
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