The image is from Wikipedia Commons
2019 Venezuelan presidential crisis
|2019 Venezuelan presidential crisis|
|Part of the crisis in Venezuela|
|Date||10 January 2019 (2019-01-10) – ongoing
(2 months and 16 days)
|Methods||Protests, support campaigns, foreign diplomatic pressure and sanctions|
|Parties to the civil conflict|
A crisis concerning who is the legitimate President of Venezuela has been underway since 10 January 2019, when the opposition-majority National Assembly declared that incumbent Nicolás Maduro's 2018 reelection was invalid and the body declared its president, Juan Guaidó, to be acting president of the nation.
The process and results of the May 2018 Venezuelan presidential election were widely disputed. The National Assembly declared Maduro illegitimate on the day of his second inauguration, citing the 1999 Constitution of Venezuela enacted under Hugo Chávez, Maduro's predecessor; in response, 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.
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 of Venezuela 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 National Constituent Assembly. The Democratic Unity Roundtable—the opposition to the incumbent ruling party—boycotted the election, saying that the Constituent Assembly 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 Constituent Assembly 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. CEO of Venezuela Al Día, Manuel Corao, argued that Maduro was no longer the president and that "the tendencies in Venezuela represented in the National Assembly [wish to] designate a transitional government that fills the vacuum of power and liberates Venezuelans from Communist evil". Former Venezuelan legislator Alexis Ortiz stated that "Castrochavism [...] rots in incompetence, corruption, and surrender of national sovereignty", calling on a transitional government to work on reconciliation, establish general elections, receive humanitarian assistance and protect civil liberties, among other requests.
A November 2018 report by the International Crisis Group said that "[n]eighboring countries and other foreign powers have taken steps–including sanction–to achieve some kind of negotiated transition, which is still the best way out of the crisis".
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 Canada's 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 US vice-president Mike Pence, United States Secretary of State Pompeo, National Security advisor John R. 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 the restoration of Venezuela's rule of law, and will hold democratic elections.
January: Inauguration of Maduro
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 10 January 2019 second inauguration of Nicolás Maduro. The justice, Christian Zerpa, said that Nicolás 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.
At the time of the inauguration, The Times reported that US intelligence had allegedly learned that Minister of Defense, Vladimir Padrino López, had requested that Maduro step down, threatening to resign if Maduro did not. On 15 January 2019, Padrino López swore loyalty to Maduro, stating that members of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces of Venezuela (FANB) "are willing to die to defend that Constitution, those people, those institutions and you as supreme magistrate, president of Venezuela".
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 regardless if Maduro began his new term on the 10th, the country would not have a legitimately elected president. 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.
National Assembly declares Guaidó acting president
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. Venezuelan political experts, like David Smilde from the Washington Office on Latin America, suggested that this action would enrage Maduro, who already called the National Assembly traitors for not attending his inauguration, and who might arrest or attack more of its members. A friend of Guaidó, in response, said that they were aware of the risks but believed it needed to be done to allow democracy to reappear in Venezuela.
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 on that day, Brazil and Colombia gave their support to Guaidó as acting president of Venezuela.
Detention of Guaidó and rebellion within the National Guard
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". In a later announcement, he declared himself acting president, his most direct claim to the position.
In early 2019, a group of Venezuelan ex-army and police officers in Peru announced support for Guaidó, disclaiming Maduro. Multiple groups of similarly retired or displaced soldiers said that they would return to fight Maduro if needed. It was also reported that though the top military swore allegiance to Maduro, many had spoken to exiled and defected soldiers to express their wish to not suppress any uprising that could oust Maduro, secretly supporting Guaidó. The National Assembly offered amnesty for military defectors.
Early on 21 January, at least 27 soldiers of the Venezuelan National Guard stationed near Miraflores Palace mutinied against Maduro. The Guardian reported that they kidnapped four security staff and stole weaponry from a post in Petare, and posted videos on social media promising the military would fight against the government. Rioting and arson took place in the area and tear gas was used on civilian protestors. After overnight fighting, the soldiers were taken by authorities. Five were injured and one person died in the mutiny: a civilian woman who was confused for a protester was killed by members of a colectivo. The BBC compared the mutiny to the El Junquito raid a year earlier, which resulted in the death of rebel leader Óscar Pérez.
Guaidó swears oath as acting president
On 23 January, Guaidó swore to serve as Acting President. Smaller protests had been building prior to that day. 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.
The opposition march was planned for a 10:00 a.m. start, but was delayed for 30 minutes due to rain. 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.
Before the protest began, the Venezuelan National Guard used tear gas on gathering crowds at other locations. Another area of the capital was blocked off at Plaza Venezuela, a large main square, with armored vehicles and riot police on hand before protestors arrived. Photographic reports showed that some protests grew violent, resulting in injuries to both protesters and security. By the end of the day, at least 13 people were killed. Michelle Bachelet of the United Nations expressed concern that so many had been killed and 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 Juan 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."
February: Humanitarian aid
Shortages in Venezuela have occurred since 2007 during the presidency of Hugo Chávez; they became commonplace in 2012. In 2016, the National Assembly of Venezuela had declared a humanitarian crisis considering "serious shortage of medicines, medical supplies and deterioration of humanitarian infrastructure", asking Maduro's government to provide access to essential medicines and medical supplies. In the years before the presidential crisis, the Maduro government denied several offers of aid, stating that there was not a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and that such claims were only used to justify foreign intervention. Maduro's refusal of aid worsened the effects of Venezuela's crisis.
Shortly before his second inauguration event, in November 2018, the Maduro government received $9.2 million from the UN that was to be designated for medical equipment and food supplies. Concerns were raised that the UN funding would be lost to corruption in Maduro's government. Following the presidential crisis, Maduro initially refused aid, stating that Venezuela is not a country of "beggars".
According to France 24, Guaidó has made bringing humanitarian aid to the "hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans who could die if aid does not arrive" a priority, and a test of the military's allegiance. Maduro prevented the American-sponsored aid from entering Venezuela. The Tienditas Bridge on the Colombia–Venezuela border was blocked by the Venezuelan National Guard, using shipping containers and tanker truck. The bridge had never been opened after it was completed in 2016, due to the Venezuela–Colombia migrant crisis, and was previously closed with fences and concrete block.
As the first trucks with aid, escorted by Colombian police, approached the blocked bridge on 7 February, human rights activists received them, 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. Guaidó issued an 11-day ultimatum to the Venezuelan Armed Forces on 12 February, 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".
Humanitarian aid was also stockpiled on the Brazilian border, with the intent to bring it into Venezuela. On 20 February, Dragoon 300 armoured fighting vehicles of the Armored Cavalry Squadron were seen entering the Gran Sabana region. Groups of indigenous Pemon peoples blocked the entry of the military vehicles into the region, and members of armed forces loyal to Maduro fired upon them with live ammunition on 22 February. Fifteen Pemon were injured, four seriously, and two Pemon were killed.
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 showed up at the Venezuela Aid Live concert organized by Richard Branson 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 pass into Venezuela from Brazil and Colombia, opposed by Maduro's administration. At the Colombia–Venezuela border, the caravans were tear-gassed or shot at with rubber bullets by Venezuelan personnel as they crossed bridges. Near the Brazil–Venezuela border, more than 2,000 indigenous people from Gran Sabana gathered to assist with the entrance of international aid. The Venezuelan National Guard repressed demonstrations near Brazil, while colectivos attacked protesters in San Antonio del Táchira and Ureña, leaving at least four dead and about 20 injured. A ship originating from Puerto Rico attempted to deliver humanitarian aid via the port at Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, but the vessel, carrying civilians, returned after the Bolivarian Navy of Venezuela threatened to "open fire" on it.
By the end of the day, a preliminary report by the OAS stated there were more than 285 injured. Romel Guzamana, a representative of the indigenous community in Gran Sabana, stated that at least 25 Pemon were killed in what NTN24 described as a "massacre" by Venezuelan troops. According to the Miami Herald, Guaidó said the world "had 'been able to see with their own eyes' how Maduro had violated international law. 'The Geneva protocols clearly state that destroying humanitarian aid is a crime against humanity,' he said." Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodríguez declared that "they saw only a little piece of what we are willing to do", and Diosdado Cabello stated "we showed the tip of the iceberg".
Lima Group meeting and Latin American tour
After a joint announcement with Almagro and Duque, where Guaidó asked that the international community continue to support "all options on the table", Guaidó traveled from Cúcuta to Bogotá for a 24 February meeting with US vice president Pence.
With the failure to bring humanitarian aid into Venezuela, the Lima Group met in Bogotá on 25 February amid continuing tension. Guaidó and Pence attended the meeting; Mexico, Costa Rica, Guyana and Saint Lucia did not attend. 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. The European Union and Brazil announced strong opposition to military intervention; 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. Because of the travel restriction placed upon him by the Maduro administration, he could face prison when returning to Venezuela; Maduro said that Guaidó was welcome to return, but would have to face justice in the courts for breaching his travel ban. Guaidó announced that he planned to return to Venezuela despite the threats of imprisonment, and said Maduro's "regime [was] weak, lacking support in Venezuela and international recognition". He re-entered Venezuela on 4 March, via Simón Bolívar International Airport in Maiquetía; he was received at the airport by diplomats from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Spain and the United States, and in Caracas by a crowd of supporters.
Two days after Guaidó's return, Arreaza declared German ambassador Daniel Kriener persona non grata and gave him 48 hours to leave the country because of his role in helping Guaidó re-enter; only Kriener was targeted for expulsion. The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry accused Kriener of interference in internal affairs and called it unacceptable for a foreign diplomat to act "in clear alignment with the conspiracy agenda of extremist sectors of the Venezuelan opposition". German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas denounced the expulsion as an incomprehensible decision that escalates the situation instead of easing tensions. Guaidó called on European governments to tighten financial sanctions against the Maduro government in response to its expulsion of the German ambassador.
March: Blackout, UN delegation visit, detention of Guaidó aide
In March 2019, Venezuela experienced a near total electrical blackout, and Maduro accused the US of "masterminding a 'demonic' plot to force him from power by crippling the country's electricity system with an imperialist 'electromagnetic attack'," 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." He continued his tour on 17 March, visiting Maiquetia in Vargas state where he was born, where he directed comments at criticism that he was losing momentum, saying they were moving forward, stronger than ever.
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.
Following the February Lima Group meeting, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera criticized United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) commissioner Michelle Bachelet on 3 March for her failure to condemn Maduro, and called on her "to fulfill the role as high commissioner to defend human rights in a country where they are being brutally overrun". Her office announced that she would send a five-person delegation to Venezuela from 11 to 22 March ahead of a potential visit by Bachelet herself; the visit occurred during the nationwide blackout. Government officials began to repair hospitals, and the Lara state College of Physicians denounced that a "farce" was underway "to give an express makeover to the hospital, knowing that here people die due to lack of supplies". 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 in the early morning hours of 21 March, and taken to El Helicoide. 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. US Secretary of State Pompeo tweeted that the US "will hold accountable those involved". Just hours after Marrero's detention, the United States Department of the Treasury responded by placing sanctions on the Venezuelan bank BANDES and its subsidiaries. Bolton told Univision the sanctions were a direct response to Marrero's arrest. US Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin warned, "The regime's continued use of kidnapping, torture, and murder of Venezuelan citizens will not be tolerated by the U.S. or the international coalition that is united behind President Guaido. Roberto Marrero and other political prisoners must be released immediately."
Recognition, reactions, and public opinion
As of March 2019, Guaidó is recognized as the interim president of Venezuela by more than 50 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. The United States was the first country to recognize Guaidó on 23 January; US President Donald Trump quickly recognized him and US vice president Mike Pence sent support and solidarity as well. AP News reported that "familiar geopolitical sides" had formed by 24 January, with Russia, China, Iran, Syria, and Cuba supporting Maduro, and the US, Canada, and most of Western Europe supporting Guaidó.
Russia has been a vocal supporter of Maduro, as well as being a military and economic ally. Domestic reactions in Russia have been mixed with some publications praising Russia's support of Maduro and its willingness to confront the US, and others criticizing economic aid to Venezuela which they deem an economic black hole. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan offered immediate support, and according to Haaretz, pledged investments in Venezuela's economy as well. China was quick to support Maduro after the 2018 Venezuelan presidential election, and voted against a UN resolution calling for new presidential elections.
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; Mexico called for non-intervention in Venezuelan internal affairs, and Uruguay supports Maduro, but calls for new elections.
National military, official, and diplomatic recognition and defections
The Miami Herald reported that the Maduro regime feared a military uprising and defections, had made many arrests, and Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López ordered a counterintelligence effort to locate conspiracists 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. CBS News reported that rank-and-file troops, who made about US$6 per month, were "hungry and pushed to a tipping point".
Guaidó declared that the opposition had held secret meetings with military officials to discuss the Amnesty Law. An opposition representative stated that the meetings were focused on army officers, who were amenable to the idea and "expressed concern about the Trump administration's past threats of military intervention in Venezuela and [...] that the armed forces would be outgunned in any fight". Analysts warned that the meetings could potentially only win partial support and divide the military, which could lead to a civil war or coup.
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. Serving as a National Assembly deputy for the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, The Wall Street Journal said the retired general is considered a pro-Maduro legislator. In a video released online on 21 February, he called for Venezuelan military forces to break ranks and to allow the entry of humanitarian aid to Venezuela. Directed to soldiers he said, "we do not have the technical capacity to confront any enemy ... he who says otherwise lies." Directed to Maduro, he said, "You have killed hundreds of young people in the streets for trying to claim the rights you stole. This without even counting the dead for lack of medicines and security."
In an interview with The New York Times, Carvajal said Maduro was a "dictator with a corrupt inner circle that has engaged in drug trafficking and courted the militant group Hezbollah". US investigators accused Carvajal as being one of those responsible for drug trafficking in Venezuela; he said Maduro himself helped corrupt top government figures manage drug trafficking in Venezuela. Carvajal also questioned the status of Venezuela's sovereignty, explaining that Cubans control the Maduro government. In March 2019, he said that Maduro orders the "spontaneous protests" in his favor abroad, and his partners finance them.
The Venezuelan Air Force's head of strategic planning, divisional general Francisco Esteban Yánez Rodríguez, recognized Guaidó as interim president on 2 February 2019, stating: "Today, with patriotic and democratic pride, I inform you that I do not recognize the irritating and dictatorial authority of Mr. Nicolás Maduro and I recognize Deputy Juan Guaidó as the Interim President of Venezuela, for which I worthily place myself at your service". He stated that 90% of the armed forces would back Guaidó if needed.
Air Force general Víctor Romero Meléndez supported Guaidó and called upon the Armed Forces to "support the people and the constitution". Retired air force major general Jorge Oropeza recognized Guaidó as interim president.
Major General Alexis López Ramírez, who resigned his command of Venezuela's National Defense Council in 2017, recognized Guaidó as president on 23 February 2019. López Ramírez demanded respect for Venezuela's constitution, criticized the presence of Cubans in Venezuela's military, and said that command of the armed forces had been usurped by police and politicians from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela.
On 18 March, Army general Carlos Rotondaro, who had been under sanctions by the United States since 2018, defected to Colombia and recognized Guaidó as Venezuela's president. Rotondaro is a former Health Minister and former president of Venezuelan Social Security (Spanish: Instituto Venezolano de los Seguros Sociales – IVSS); in an 18 March interview with NTN24, he fingered ex-Minister of Health Luis López as the person who had medicines withheld from patients, referring to a The New York Times interview of Cuban medical professionals published on the same day.[c]
Following the 23 January events, some Venezuelan diplomats in the United States supported Guaidó; the majority returned to Venezuela on Maduro's orders. Venezuela's ambassador in Iraq, Jonathan Velasco, recognized Guaidó, indicating that the National Assembly is the only government branch "associated with ethics, legitimacy and legality" and responsible for filling the "power vacuum created by the violation of the constitution". The Consul general of Venezuela in Houston recognized Guaidó, saying "I am at your service and at your disposal to serve my country." Although consular officers destroyed thousands of documents from the ambassador's office and both the administration and consular section, nine officials decided to stay.
The top Venezuelan consular officer in Miami supported Guaidó, stating "it [follows] my democratic principles and values" and urging other diplomats to "embrace the Constitution" and join Guaidó in trying to force new elections. Two consular officials in Chicago recognized Guaidó, saying they wanted to be "associated with democratic principles and values".
The top Venezuelan military representative to the United States, Colonel José Luis Silva, recognized Guaidó as his president.
In early 2019, with Cuban and Russian-backed security forces in the country, potential United States military involvement was reported. According to professor Erick Langer of Georgetown University, "Cuba and Russia have already intervened". Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank, stated that "a military action of the United States against Venezuela would be contrary to the movements of the Trump administration to retire troops from Syria or Afghanistan." John Bolton has declared that "all options are on the table", but has 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".
Reuters reported that Russian mercenaries associated with the Wagner Group were in Venezuela to defend Maduro's government. Professor Robert Ellis of the United States Army War College described 400 Wagner Group mercenaries provided by Russia as the "palace guard of Nicolás Maduro". Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied the deployment of Russian mercenaries, calling it "fake news".
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 United States, which can be solved only through dialogue. Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov told his US counterpart Mike Pompeo that Russia is prepared for bilateral talks under strict principles of the UN Charter.
In late March, a local journalist told Reuters that two Russian planes had landed in Venezuela, carrying 100 troops and 35 tonnes of matériel; flight-tracking websites verified the flights. According to an anonymous Venezuelan official cited by the Associated Press, the Russians were "visiting to discuss equipment maintenance and training, and strategy". National Assembly deputy Williams Dávila said the National Assembly had initiated an investigation into 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".
Colombian guerrillas from National Liberation Army (ELN) have also vowed to defend Maduro, with ELN leaders in Cuba stating that they are drafting plans to provide military assistance to Maduro. The Redes Foundation denounced in the Colombian Public Ministry that armed groups made up of ELN members and FARC dissidents, supported by the Bolivarian National Police and FAES officials, murdered two Venezuelans, Eduardo José Marrero and Luigi Ángel Guerrero, during a protest in the frontier city of San Cristóbal, on Táchira state.
In January 2019 the United States imposed sanctions on the Venezuelan state-owned oil and natural gas company PDVSA to pressure Maduro to resign. The sanctions prevent PDVSA from being paid for petroleum exports to the US, freeze $7 billion of PDVSA's US assets and prevent US firms from exporting naphtha to Venezuela. Bolton estimated the expected loss to the Venezuelan economy at more than $11 billion in 2019. 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. In February Maduro ordered PDVSA to move its European office to Moscow to protect PDVSA's overseas assets from US sanctions. The Venezuelan National Assembly has been looking at ways to access Venezuela's overseas cash and facilities. The Russian oil company Rosneft has supplied naphtha to Venezuela and continues to purchase Venezuelan petroleum which it says is through contracts that were in place prior to the US sanctions.
PDVSA's US subsidiary Citgo announced in February that it would formally cut ties with PDVSA to comply with US sanctions on Venezuela, and halted payments to PDVSA. Guaidó and the National Assembly appointed a new Citgo board of directors under Chairperson Luisa Palacios. The National Assembly authorized Guaidó's appointment of a new ad hoc board of PDVSA, Citgo, Pdvsa Holding Inc, Citgo Holding Inc. and Citgo Petroleum Corporation. Even though control of PDVSA assets in Venezuela remained with Maduro, Guaidó also named a new board for PDVSA. With Citgo under the control of Guaidó's administration, the US Department of Treasury extended its license to operate in spite of US sanctions.
Through Petrocaribe, Caribbean countries including Haiti and Jamaica had been able to finance 40% of their Venezuelan crude oil purchases over 25 years at 1% interest; Cuba received free oil in exchange for medical services. Reuters said, "The Caribbean region has long relied on oil and gas from Venezuela, which offered cheap financing through a program called Petrocaribe, though shipments have declined in recent years because of production problems at Venezuela’s state-owned oil company PDVSA." Research by the journalism group Connectas said that Venezuela had spent $28 billion worth of oil to buy support from 14 Caribbean countries; according to the Connectas study the social benefits that were intended for the countries of Petrocaribe were not realized, which they say was ignored by the Venezuelan government because Petrocaribe countries were intended to protect Venezuela's sovereignty in international organizations like the UN and OAS.
Several leaders of Caribbean countries supporting Maduro criticized the US sanctions, saying their support for Maduro was based on principles, not oil, and that sanctions were affecting their countries' supply, debt payments, and the region's stability. The director of the Latin America and Caribbean Energy Program at the University of Texas at Austin, Jorge Piñón, said the supply cuts to these Caribbean countries were not due to the sanctions, but the mismanagement of PDVSA. When Chávez was elected, Venezuela was producing 3.5 million barrels per day of crude oil; as of March 2019, production is about 1 million barrels per day, and Piñón says these countries should have seen the problems coming. Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, and others criticized the US intent in the region, saying that "Washington should provide more aid to these nations and not spend billions on useless wars". With the Venezuelan crisis dividing Caribbean countries, those countries that did not recognize Maduro were invited to meet with Trump in March 2019. Following the meeting, Trump promised more investment to the countries supporting Guaidó (Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and Saint Lucia), although "the White House did not specifically tie the carrot of investment to that support".
Venezuela's third-largest export (after crude oil and refined petroleum products) is gold. The country's gold production is controlled by the military and is mined under dangerous conditions. 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, but that it was hard to track where the gold was going. Central Bank gold holdings decreased in November 2018 from US$6.1 billion to US$5.5 billion; the last independent observer to access the vault where gold is stored was Francisco Rodríguez, who saw an estimated US$15 billion in 2014. Reuters reported that 20 tons were removed from the vaults in 2018, and 23 tons of mined gold were taken to Istanbul, Turkey.
In mid-February, a National Assembly legislator Angel Alvarado said that eight tons 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 were looking into recent gold imports, and reported that the gold could have been smuggled into that country.
The United States Department of the Treasury sanctioned Minerven, Venezuela's state-run mining company, and its president, Adrian Antonio Perdomo in March 2019. The sanctions prohibit business with Minerven and Perdomo, and freeze their assets in the US. The Treasury department said that the Venezuelan military grants access to criminal organizations in exchange for money.
After the detention of Guaidó's chief of staff, the US Treasury Department responded by placing sanctions on the Venezuelan bank BANDES and its subsidiaries. Univision said this action "put 'the entire banking sector' on notice" that "persons operating in Venezuela's financial sector may be subject to sanctions." China Development Bank has paid billions of dollars through BANDES to the Venezuelan government in exchange for crude oil; the sanctions will make it difficult for Venezuela to restructure its US$20 billion debt with China.
The Maduro administration issued a statement saying that it "energetically rejects the unilateral, coercive, arbitrary and illegal measures" that would affect banking for millions of people.
US National Security Advisor John Bolton said that "Our aim is to bring this crisis to a conclusion quickly for the benefit of the Venezuelan people to get the Maduro regime to peacefully transiton to the Guaido regime so that we can have free and fair elections." Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said, "The willingness of Maduro's inner-circle to exploit Venezuela’s institutions knows no bounds. Regime insiders have transformed BANDES and its subsidiaries into vehicles to move funds abroad in an attempt to prop up Maduro. Maduro and his enablers have distorted the original purpose of the bank, which was founded to help the economic and social well-being of the Venezuelan people, as part of a desperate attempt to hold onto power."
Pence announced new US sanctions against four Venezuelan state governors, who the US says had furthered the humanitarian crisis by participating in the blocking of aid; the governors of the United Socialist Party representing Zulia, Apure, Vargas and Carabobo states were blacklisted.
In mid-December, 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. Bloomberg reported that unnamed sources said 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 reserves deposited in London instead of sending humanitarian aid. He claimed 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. The US has said it will give Guaidó control of those assets once Maduro has been removed from power.
Censorship and media control
Several sources reported that starting 12 January 2019 until 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. The block mainly affected the users of the state-run CANTV, the national telecommunications company and largest provider of the country. Several media outlets have suggested that Wikipedia directly or indirectly was taking sides with either group.
Later on 21 January, the day of a National Guard mutiny in Cotiza, internet access to some social media like Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube 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, with Wikipedia, Google Search, Facebook, Instagram, and many other social media platforms affected. The widespread regional internet blackouts occurred again on 26 to 27 January.
Live streams of the National Assembly sessions and Guaidó's speeches have been regularly disrupted for CANTV users, mainly affecting access to streaming platforms like Periscope, YouTube, Bing, and some Google services. The longest block of YouTube to date started during an Assembly session on 6 March, lasting 20 hours.
Canal 24 Horas, a news channel owned by Chile's public broadcaster, Televisión Nacional, was removed from Venezuela's cable and satellite television operators by the state-run National Commission of Telecommunications (Conatel) on 24 January. Conatel removed 24 Horas once again during 23 February conflicts in the Venezuelan frontier, no reason was given.
Since 22 January, Conatel has repeatedly advised against the promotion of violence and the disavowing of institutional authorities, according to the Law on Social Responsibility on Radio and Television imposed in 2004. Some radio programs have been ordered off air, including Cesar Miguel Rondón's radio program, one of the most listened-to programs in the country. 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.
During the Venezuela Aid Live concert on 22 February, NatGeo and Antena 3 were removed from cable and satellite TV for broadcasting the concert. Access to YouTube was also blocked for CANTV users during the concert.
Without clear reason, Twitter was blocked for CANTV users on 27 February, and again on 4 March, with Guaido's return from his regional trip. The access to SoundCloud was also restricted all along between both dates. NetBlocks suspects that the first censorship on the 27th was related either to a SoundCloud recording published by Guaidó on Twitter or to a viral video showing several delegates leaving the UN Human Rights Council meeting during Jorge Arreaza speech.
The website "Voluntarios X Venezuela" was promoted by Guaidó and the National Assembly to gather volunteers for humanitarian aid; as of 16 February, Guaidó said 600,000 people had signed up. 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 fake site also hosted other phishing websites with the aim of obtaining email addresses, usernames and passwords. All the phishing websites 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.
Aggression towards press personnel
Between 29 and 30 January, at least eleven press personnel were arrested. On the evening of 29 January, four journalists were arrested by the Maduro government while reporting near the Miraflores presidential palace—Venezuelan journalists Ana Rodríguez of VPI TV and Maiker Yriarte of TV Venezuela, and Chilean journalists Rodrigo Pérez and Gonzalo Barahona of TVN Chile. The two Venezuelan journalists were released; the Chilean journalists were deported.
Two French journalists from French TV show, Quotidien, and their Venezuelan producer were detained for two days at El Helicoide on 30 January. Three press workers of EFE were also arrested by SEBIN and DGCIM—a Colombian photographer, a Colombian companion, and a Spanish companion.
Jorge Arreaza, Venezuelan Minister for Foreign Affairs, defended the detentions, stating that press workers were part "of the media operation against the country" that wanted "to create a media scandal" by not "complying with the minimum prerequisites required by Venezuelan law". Press organizations stated that they complied with the migration laws of Venezuela. Maduro denied that journalists were detained by authorities.
During 23 February clashes, there were numerous reports of Venezuelan authorities and paramilitaries attacking press workers, including workers of the Associated Press, Ecos del Torbes, La Prensa de Lara, Telemundo, TVVenezuela, VIVOplay, VPItv and others.
Jorge Ramos, who The Guardian described as "arguably the best-known journalist in the Spanish-speaking world", was detained along with his Univisión crew members during an interview with Maduro on 25 February. Univisión equipment and materials were confiscated by Venezuelan authorities. During the interview, Maduro denied that a humanitarian crisis existed in Venezuela, which prompted Ramos to show Maduro images of Venezuelan children eating from a garbage truck and asking again if a crisis existed. After being released, Ramos stated that he and his group were held because this question bothered Maduro. The Univisión team was informed they would be deported, Maduro's Minister of Information Jorge Rodríguez described the incident as a "cheap show".
Telemundo journalist Daniel Garrido was detained for eight hours by SEBIN on 26 February and was later irregularly released on a side street in Caracas.
US freelance journalist Cody Weddle and his Venezuelan coworker Carlos Camacho were detained for half a day on 7 March after Weddle house was raided and his equipment confiscated by military counterintelligence forces. US diplomats demanded Venezuelan authorities for Weddle's release. Weddle was deported afterwards.
During the 2019 Venezuelan blackout, Venezuelan–Spanish journalist Luis Carlos Díaz was arrested at his home by SEBIN forces, and taken along with his electronic equipment to El Helicoide. He said he had been physically attacked and that the intelligence agents had taken money from his house without reporting it. A group accompanied by his wife, journalist Naky Soto, protested in front of the prosecutor office. Michelle Bachelet, head of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, was in Caracas at that time and tweeted concern about the detention. The Spanish embassy in Caracas also contacted the government for information. Díaz was accused as an accomplice in a plot to cause the electricity outage, he was charged with instigation of a crime and is not allowed to leave Venezuela. He is also forbidden to participate in protests or to give statements to the media, and he must appear before court every eight days.
Gazeta Wyborcza Polish journalist, Tomas Surdel, was briefly detained, threatened, and beaten, by FAES forces during the blackout, according to the Venezuelan press workers union. The newspaper's website said it had received complaints about his reporting on Maduro from the Venezuelan Embassy in Warsaw, and that he was not arrested but was viciously beaten and left by the side of the road.
German journalist Billy Six, who was detained in El Helicoide since 17 November 2018 charged of espionage, rebellion and security violations, was allowed to leave Venezuela on 16 March. He must report to court every 15 days and he cannot speak to the media about his detention. Reporters Without Borders had previously considered the allegations unproven and called for his release.
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.
- This page is based on the Wikipedia article 2019 Venezuelan presidential crisis; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA.