Venezuela opposition leader cranks up pressure on Maduro

Anna Jefferson
January 26, 2019

The United States is seeking to ensure that Venezuelan oil revenue goes to opposition leader and self-declared interim president Juan Guaido, and to cut off money from increasingly isolated President Nicolas Maduro, Reuters reports, citing a top USA official.

Although many rank-and-file troops suffer the same hardships as countless other Venezuelans when it comes to basic needs like feeding their families, Maduro has worked to cement their support with bonuses and other special benefits.

"The EU strongly calls for the start of an immediate political process leading to free and credible elections, in conformity with the constitutional order", the bloc's diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement.

Washington's decision to throw its weight behind Guaido, a virtual unknown in Venezuelan politics until recently, came only after it became convinced that the 35-year-old with a United States education was a democratic-minded leader they could trust and work with, U.S. officials said.

A veteran of Iraq war, she has been opposed to American interventionist policy overseas and is against deployment of United States troops in other countries.

Maduro on Wednesday gave U.S. diplomats 72 hours to leave the country after President Donald Trump, backed by major Latin American nations, said the leftist firebrand was no longer Venezuela's legitimate president.

Indian-American Congressman Ro Khanna too slammed Trump for his new policy on Venezuela.

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As the death toll from days of street protests jumped to 26, a defiant Maduro announced the closure of Venezuela's embassy and consulates in the United States, a day after President Donald Trump's administration declared his regime "illegitimate". "There is no doubt the Maduro's economic policies have been awful, and he has engaged in financial mismanagement and also political authoritarianism", he said. If they want to buy oil, we will sell oil.

Guaido is also readying a new board to run state-run oil firm PDVSA's USA unit Citgo Petroleum, people familiar with the discussions said.

Speaking at the World Youth Day in Panama, Pope Francis's spokesman said he was "praying for the victims and for all the people of Venezuela".

"We disavow any unconstitutional attempt to usurp" the presidency, said Moreno.

It was the latest worldwide crisis to split the global superpowers, with the United States and Europe backing Guaido, and Russian Federation and China urging non-interference.

On Wednesday, Venezuelan congress head Guaido declared himself interim president, the boldest challenge in years to Maduro's hold on power.

Life in the capital appeared to be returning to normal Thursday after mass anti-government demonstrations a day earlier that left at least a dozen dead in the escalating conflict with Maduro, who has been increasingly accused of undemocratic behaviour by the United States and many other nations in the region.

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That uprising was quickly quashed and officials said 27 people were arrested but it set off a wave of smaller protests that were met by security forces using tear gas and rubber bullets.

Venezuelan allies including Russian Federation and Turkey - both important commercial partners - criticized Guaido's rise as a sign of U.S. interference.

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.

Police lined streets and bridges in Caracas, as opposition protesters threw objects at them and chanted "Get out Maduro" and other slogans.

For some, especially Mexico, which was renegotiating NAFTA, adopting a more aggressive stance was also an opportunity to gain leverage in bilateral relations with the Trump administration.

Although short on details, the announcement signals that Washington is willing to go beyond traditional diplomatic measures and will seek to drain cash from Maduro's government, which is already struggling under an unprecedented economic meltdown.

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