Venezuela in Crisis

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Venezuela has plunged into a major political crisis amid a growing row over President Nicolas Maduro’s future as the country’s leader. 

Maduro started a second term on January 10 following a widely-boycotted election last year that many foreign governments refused to recognise.

On Wednesday, Juan Guaido, the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, declared himself interim president.

Shortly after Guaido took an oath swearing himself in before his supporters, US President Donald Trump publicly recognised him as the country’s leader. In response, Maduro broke off diplomatic ties with the United States and gave the American diplomats in the country 72 hours to leave.

Maduro accused Guaido of staging a coup and ordered his arrest.

Here are all the latest updates as of Thursday, January 31:

UN chief offers ‘good offices’ 

The UN says Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has responded to a letter sent via Twitter by the president of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly, Juan Guaido.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Thursday that Guterres reiterated the offer of his “good offices” to find a political solution to the current crisis and emphasised his public concern about the situation and its impact on the Venezuelan people.

Guaido declared himself Venezuela’s interim president last week and asked for international humanitarian assistance coordinated by the UN in the letter dated January 26.

Dujarric said Guterres responded that “the United Nations is ready to increase its activities in Venezuela in the areas of humanitarian assistance and development.”

But Dujarric said the secretary-general told Guaido that to do this the United Nations needs “the consent and the cooperation” of Nicolas Maduro’s government, which is recognised by the UN

EFE journalists freed from detention

Spain’s state-run EFE news agency says three of its journalists have been freed after being detained overnight in Venezuela’s capital.

EFE reported Thursday that the journalists are with Spain’s assistant consul in Venezuela.

According to the news agency, Colombian photographer Leonardo Munoz disappeared Wednesday while on assignment and two other journalists were later taken from their office by members of Venezuela’s intelligence agency.

Two French journalists were also freed from detention on Thursday, and two Chilean journalists were ordered deported.

A union for Venezuelan journalists says that officials detained 19 journalists in January as the nation reels from political unrest.

Guaido says special police force at his house

Juan Guaido said that agents from the Special Actions Force (FAES) unit were at his home , in a sign of increasing pressure on the opposition leader.

“I will hold you responsible for any intimidation of my baby, who is just 20 months old,” Guaido said at the end of a public event. He then left for home, asking diplomats to accompany him.

Guaido addresses nation on his plan 

Juan Guaido,the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, has arrived at the Central University of Venezuela for the presentation of his “National Plan.”

Different members of civil society and the National Assembly participated in the conference.

Guaido assured that all Venezuelans are needed in order to build a plan that works.”The armed forces have an important role [here],” he said.

He thanked the European Parliament for its support, and said the [opposition] is taking all the necessary steps for succeeding.

We don’t have “economic resources, but we have the people,” he added. 

Venezuela official says ‘terrorists’ foiled 

Venezuelan officials say security forces have taken down a “terrorist” group backed by political opponents plotting to assassinate embattled President Nicolas Maduro.

Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said Thursday that retired National Guard Oswaldo Garcia Palomo was among those detained.

Garcia Palomo has been an outspoken critic of Maduro who for months has openly declared his intentions to amass a military force in exile to remove Maduro from power.

Palomo’s wife Sorbay Padilla has said that she last heard from him Sunday after he entered the country clandestinely from Colombia.

Reverol accuses Colombian intelligence, the CIA and exiled Venezuelan lawmaker Julio Borges of being behind the alleged mercenary group.

He says security forces seized two rifles and 500 armbands bearing the letters “OC,” which he says stands for “Operation Constitution.”

Russia: No plans to evacuate diplomats

The spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry says there are no plans underway for evacuation of the country’s diplomats or other citizens from Venezuela, but is declining to comment on why a Russian airliner showed up in the Venezuelan capital’s airport.

The arrival of the Boeing 777 belonging to Russian airline Nordwind on Monday has led to widespread speculation. 

Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters Thursday that she could not comment on the airliner, “which was not sent for official goals.”

“I can say that this is not about evacuation of Russian diplomats, or their family members or Russian citizens that are employees of overseas agencies or companies,” she said.

“Grave crisis” in Venezuela 

An independent UN human rights monitor says economic sanctions are compounding a “grave crisis” in Venezuela.

Idriss Jazairy, a special rapporteur focusing on the negative impact of sanctions, expressed concern about “reports” that the US sanctions were “aimed at changing the government of Venezuela.” He did not specify the reports.

He added: “The use of sanctions by outside powers to overthrow an elected government is in violation of all norms of international law.”

President Donald Trump has vowed to use the “full weight of United States economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy.”

The Trump administration slapped sanctions on Venezuela that could starve the country of billions in oil revenue.

EU parliament recognises Guaido

The European Parliament has recognised Venezuela’s self-declared interim president Juan Guaido as de facto head of state on Thursday, heightening international pressure on the OPEC member’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

EU lawmakers voted 429 in favour to 104 against, with 88 abstentions, at a special session in Brussels to recognise Venezuelan congress head Guaido as interim leader.

In a statement with the non-binding vote, the parliament urged the bloc’s 28 governments to follow suit and consider Guaido “the only legitimate interim president” until there were “new free, transparent and credible presidential elections”.

Guaido said that this recognition by the European Parliament represented a “great step” towards the fight for democracy in Venezuela. 

“We have taken a big step in our struggle for democracy!,” Guaido wrote on twitter.

“We appreciate the decision [taken by] the European Parliament [it] recognise[s] all the effort that we Venezuelans have put forward for the restitution of constitutional order in our country”

Trump calls Guaido to urge ‘fight for democracy’

The White House said President Donald Trump spoke to Venezuela’s self-proclaimed interim president, Juan Guaido, by phone, reiterating support for his “fight to regain democracy”.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump and Guaido agreed to maintain regular communication after Venezuelan authorities opened an investigation that could lead to Guaido’s arrest.

Maduro, 56, says Guaido is staging a US-directed coup against him. Maduro is not expected to stand down while he has the backing of senior military officers and has made daily visits to troops.

“Do you want to be a coward?” Maduro yelled in a call and response session with hundreds of soldiers. “No, president,” they shouted back.

Actions against Guaido would be ‘foolish’: US

The US envoy for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, warned President Maduro that acting against Juan Guaido would be an “extremely foolish move”.

“The security of interim president Guaido is a concern,” Abrams told reporters.

“The regime has not acted against him in some time and I hope that is because they recognize that he has the support of the vast majority of Venezuelans, and that would be an extremely foolish move for the regime to make.”

Abrams emphasised that unseating Maduro, who still has the backing of the military, could take time.

US aid agency creating humanitarian plan for Venezuela 

Mark Green, head of the US Agency for International Development, spoke with Guaido about assisting Venezuelans amid the devastating economic crisis.

US officials will continue to coordinate with the opposition leader’s team about the creation of a specific plan in the coming days to meet the country’s humanitarian needs, according to Guaido’s spokesman.

Discussions have been held about ramping up aid to Venezuelans, including through a “humanitarian corridor” into the country, US envoy Elliott Abrams said. He did not give logistical details as to how such a scheme would operate.

Guaido: Opposition had clandestine meetings with members of military

In an opinion piece published by the New York Times, Guaido argued that Venezuela’s opposition has had clandestine meetings with members of the military and security forces.

“The transition will require support from key military contingents. We have had clandestine meetings with members of the armed forces and the security forces,” Guaido said.

“The military’s withdrawal of support from Mr (President Nicolas) Maduro is crucial to enabling a change in government.”

Wednesday, January 30

Mexico, Uruguay announce conference on Venezuela

Mexico and Uruguay announced they would convene an international conference for countries and bodies with a “neutral position” to discuss the political crisis in Venezuela. 

The two countries have not yet recognised the claim by National Assembly leader Juan Guaido to be acting president in place of leader Nicolas Maduro. 

The conference, announced on the website of the Uruguayan presidency, is due to take place in Montevideo on February.

Colombia bars entry to people for Maduro links

Colombia is barring over 200 people identified as having close ties to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from entering the neighbouring Andean nation.

Migration director Christian Kruger said on Wednesday the measure is part of a larger response by the regional bloc known as the Lima Group.

Venezuelan Ronald Ramirez became the first person denied entry Wednesday after landing in the Colombian city of Barranquilla on a charter plane.

Envoy says Venezuela military is split

The Trump administration’s special envoy for Venezuela says there are deep splits in the country’s military that should make embattled President Nicolas Maduro and his supporters very nervous.

Elliott Abrams says the vast majority of Venezuelan soldiers are unhappy with Maduro and the state of the country. Abrams says Maduro may have the backing of the top brass but the rank-and-file are restive.

Abrams told reporters at the State Department on Wednesday that the administration would continue to ramp up pressure to push Maduro to step down and would expand its support for opposition leader Juan Guaido.

France: Maduro ignoring calls for elections

France said that Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro appeared not to be heeding calls for new presidential elections and that European foreign ministers would discuss next steps in Bucharest on Thursday.

France, along with other European Union members, said on Saturday they would recognise opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s rightful leader if Maduro failed to call a new vote within eight days.

“We asked … for Maduro to announce presidential elections which would be monitored by the international community. It seems that he’s against this, so, if that’s the case, we would like Guaido to take up this initiative.”

Government assets

The US representative for Venezuela’s self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido will meet with US on Wednesday to plan a takeover of assets from socialist Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government.

Carlos Vecchio told reporters at a news conference that he will meet with White House officials o US Treasury Department possibly on Thursday about how to take control of Venezuelan assets in a progressive and orderly fashion, following a legal procedure. 

US warns against trade with Venezuela 

White House National Security Adviser John Bolton underlined US pressure on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday, telling bankers, brokers and traders not to deal in the country’s commodities that he said were “stolen” from the Venezuelan people.

“My advice to bankers, brokers, traders, facilitators, and other businesses: don’t deal in gold, oil, or other Venezuelan commodities being stolen from the Venezuelan people by the Maduro mafia. We stand ready to continue to take action,” he wrote in a Twitter post.

Walkout in Venezuela 

Venezuelans are exiting their homes and workplaces in a walkout organised by the opposition to demand that President Nicolas Maduro leave power.

People began gathering on streets in the capital city of Caracas around noon, waving flags and chanting phrases like, “Free elections!”

The demonstration comes one week after opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself president before thousands of supporters, contending that he is the nation’s rightful leader because Maduro’s reelection was a sham.

Trump stresses support on call with Guaido

US President Donald Trump and Juan Guaido agreed during a Wednesday phone call to maintain regular contact amid planned protests in coming days, according to a White House spokeswoman.

Trump spoke with Guiado “to reinforce President Trump’s strong support for Venezuela’s fight to regain its democracy,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

Maduro calls for preventing a ‘Vietnam in Latin America’ 

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is pressing his case directly to the American people, asking for their help in preventing a “Vietnam in Latin America.”

In a 45-second video shot late Tuesday from the presidential palace and addressed to “the American people” Maduro said that the Trump administration is behind an attempt to overthrow him in a coup.

He said the US is looking to get its hands on Venezuela’s abundant oil reserves, replicating US military interventions in Iraq and Libya.

But he said he is confident that he’s on the “right side of history” and pleaded with regular Americans to keep US troops out of the country.