Published: Sat, January 26, 2019
Business | By Pearl Harrison

U.S. needs to stay out of Venezuela, says Tulsi Gabbard

U.S. needs to stay out of Venezuela, says Tulsi Gabbard

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president on Wednesday, winning the backing of Washington and prompting socialist incumbent Nicolas Maduro, who has led the oil-rich nation since 2013, to sever diplomatic relations with the United States.

The battle between Mr Maduro and Juan Guaido sets up a potentially explosive struggle for power in the crisis-plagued South American nation.

Bolton has also worked with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to form a united front within the administration, needed to overcome resistance from career State Department diplomats. Washington has refused to comply, but ordered its non-essential staff to leave the tumultuous country, citing security concerns. A USA official said intermediaries were used to deliver messages to Guaido's political mentor and opposition power broker Leopoldo Lopez, who is under house arrest after he tried and failed to lead a mass uprising against Maduro in 2014.

Later that day, Maduro said Venezuela was breaking relations with the USA and gave American diplomats 72 hours to leave the country.

In mid-December, Guaido quietly traveled to Washington, Colombia and Brazil to brief officials on the opposition's strategy of mass demonstrations to coincide with Maduro's expected swearing-in for a second term on January 10 in the face of widespread global condemnation, according to exiled former Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, an ally.

President Donald Trump's administration has spearheaded the worldwide pressure on Maduro, who accuses Washington of being behind an attempted "coup", by declaring his regime "illegitimate".

That was the conclusion drawn from U.S. contacts with Guaido in the days ahead of his declaration, including two phone calls with Pence, officials said, asking to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Maduro has been increasingly accused of undemocratic behaviour by his opponents and has presided over skyrocketing inflation, a collapsing economy and widespread shortages of basic goods.

Russia, China, Iran, Syria, Cuba and Turkey have voiced their backing for Mr Maduro's government. Maduro visited Moscow in December, seeking Russia's political and financial support.

The Maduro-appointed board of Citgo is preparing a legal strategy to defend itself, sources close to the talks said. Venezuela owes more than $20 billion.

Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez, a key Maduro ally, dismissed efforts to install a "de-facto parallel government" as tantamount to a coup. "But we are living in a dictatorship", Guaido said from an undisclosed location. While yesterday's protest drew tens of thousands to the streets and over a dozen nations in the region are pledging support, the military's backing is far from certain.

The European Union did not join the countries lining up behind Guaido but called for "free and credible elections". Guaido said he would work to guarantee humanitarian aid and take new measures to pressure Maduro.

Protesters clashed with security forces on Wednesday night around the country and in both affluent and working class areas of Caracas, with some demonstrations spilling over into looting.

Meanwhile, many Venezuelans were looking for Guaido to re-emerge and provide guidance on the opposition's next steps.

Earlier this month it rejected the legitimacy of Maduro's new presidential term, calling on him to immediately cede power to the democratically elected National Assembly until new elections are held.

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