Unrest in Venezuela

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Thursday, the 7th of February, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

JILL NELSON, HOST: And I’m Jill Nelson. First up, Venezuela.

That country is at a crisis point. The world is lining up behind one of two men to lead Venezuela: the first, dictator Nicolas Maduro, who has led the country into its current crisis. The other, Juan Guiado, has taken the oath of presidency and declared Maduro’s power illegitimate.

REICHARD: WORLD National Editor Jamie Dean has been following the story and is here to talk about the latest and the context of what’s happening. Jamie, it’s been quite a few weeks in Venezuela. Give us a recap if you would.

JAMIE DEAN, REPORTER: Well it’s been an extraordinary few weeks Venezuela. I’d venture to say it’s been one of the most remarkable periods in the country’s modern history.

But to understand what’s happened you really have to go back to last year, when Nicolas Maduro, the country’s socialist dictator, claimed a re-election victory in a presidential contest that was widely considered a sham.

This was just the latest in a series of abuses by Maduro over the years. We’ve talked about this before, but under Maduro’s time in office, the country of Venezuela collapsed after decades of socialist rule.

This is a nation where people are literally starving from food shortages, and Maduro has refused to allow outside aid. The country’s currency is completely worthless – just try to wrap your mind around one million percent inflation. There’s very little medical care because of a lack of supplies. And people have fled Venezuela by the millions.

We’ve seen some large-scale protests in the streets of Caracas over the last couple of years, but there was really never a defining moment where things started to turn. Well, that moment came on January 23rd.

REICHARD: What happened on January 23rd?

DEAN: That’s the day that a 35-year-old congressman named Juan Guaido arrived in a public square in Caracas where thousands of people had gathered, and he raised his right hand and took the oath of the presidency.

REICHARD: How was he able to do that?

DEAN: Well, remember we said that Maduro’s re-election had been widely considered fraudulent. So when he officially began his new term in office in early January, Juan Guaido—who is the head of the National Assembly—invoked a clause in the Venezuelan constitution.

It’s article 233 to be exact, and it basically says this: If a president claims victory in a fraudulent election, the head of the National Assembly may become the interim president until free and fair elections are held.

So that’s the legal basis that Guaido and his colleagues in the opposition party cited when they planned Guaido’s presidential inauguration for Jan. 23rd, and he became interim president of Venezuela.

Now, this didn’t happen in a vacuum. U.S. officials had already assured Guaido that if he went down this path, the U.S. would officially recognize his presidency. The night before Guaido took the oath of office, thousands of Venezuelans were already planning to pour into the streets the next day. And Vice President Mike Pence released a video that night speaking directly to the Venezuelans planning to come out across the country, and he said: “We are with you.”

So the next day, as Guaido took the oath of office, there were these extraordinary images of thousands of people raising their hands. And I listened to a live-streamed call a few days later where a Venezuelan named Ricardo Ball was talking with the Acton Institute, and he described that moment as saying: It’s not Guaido alone taking the oath of office. It’s everyone else taking the oath of office alongside him in support of the constitution.

REICHARD: And how is Maduro taking all this?

DEAN: Not well, as you might imagine. He declared these events a coup and vowed to stay in power. And he was bolstered in his position by the head of the military saying the Venezuelan troops were behind Maduro as well.

REICHARD: So what happens now?

No one knows for sure. Most countries in Latin America have said they support Guaido. Canada has recognized him, most of the European Union has recognized him. On the other end, the supporters of Maduro include Russia, China, Syria and Iran. So there’s a been quite a line drawn.

And it’s a dangerous moment. Guaido has said that he will begin seeking to bring humanitarian aid into the country. It’s not clear how he will get that kind of aid across the border if Venezuelan troops are guarding it.

The military has already set up roadblocks on a bridge at the Colombian border in a city called Cucuta to keep anyone from going out or into the country. I visited that bridge in Cucuta last summer, and I can tell you that thousands of people cross that border every day—many just to line up for food at a soup kitchen because they say that’s the only food they can get. So this represents a serious problem for those folks.

More broadly, Maduro definitely faces pressure from the U.S. and this array of nations backing Guaido, but he’s pushing back with his own rallies; he could try to reach out and grab Guaido and arrest him. It’s just unclear where it’s all headed, but Guaido seems determined to stick it out.

REICHARD: What do we know about Guaido, the man?

DEAN: He’s young – he’s 35-years-old as I mentioned earlier. He’s actually a first-term congressman. So this is a big role for him to step into. His party selected him as leader of the National Assembly ahead of the events in January, so they chose him to take this on.

He seems aware of what he’s gotten himself into – as much as that’s possible. He’s alluded to the possibility that the military could arrest him or try to shut him down. But he seems determined. He told a crowd shortly after his inauguration that his opponents can cut a flower, but they can’t hold back the spring.

REICHARD: Jamie Dean is national editor for WORLD. Jamie, thank you.

DEAN: You’re welcome, Mary.

(Associated Press, Boris Vergara) Anti-government protesters cheer after Juan Guaidó declares himself interim president. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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