On Jan. 23, Juan Guiado, 35, declared himself Interim President of Venezuela, while Nicolas Maduro still claims the office. Nicolas Maduro, President since his mentor, Hugo Chavez, died in 2013, leads the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (its members are commonly called “Chavistas”). The Chavistas have dominated Venezuelan politics since Chavez’s election in 1998 according to Professor Antonio Ugues, Jr. PhD
Conversely, Juan Guaido is a long-time critic of Chavez and his political movement. According to CNN, Guaido was a founding member of the Popular Will Party (VP) in 2009 with his mentor Leopoldo López Mendoza. The Associated Press reports that in 2014 the government arrested Mendoza, and since then, eight other senior members of the VP have been arrested, thus passing the party mantle to Guiado.
Guaido finally gained electoral office in 2015 as a deputy for the state of Vargas, according to CNN. In 2019, Guaido became the leader of the National Assembly as a member of a multi-party coalition; shortly afterward Guaido declared himself president. The Nation reports that Guaido is using article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution to support his action; the article states that if the president abandons their office, the leader of the National Assembly can assume the presidency.
Shortly after Guaido declared himself leader, President Trump tweeted his support, and since then many other countries have backed Guaido, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Brazil, Colombia and Argentina. Conversely, The Washington Post reports that China, Russia, Bolivia, Cuba, Iran and Syria have declared their support for Maduro. The speed of Trump’s endorsement led the Venezuelan government to speculate that the United States had foreknowledge of Guaido’s actions.
Guaido confirmed the government’s suspicion, stating that he received backing from the US before he announced his claim. Additionally, The Washington Post reports that the US and UK have frozen Venezuelan bank accounts containing millions of dollars, and Trump has sanctioned Venezuela’s main oil company, Citgo, diverting profits to a US-controlled account which Guaido can access. Additionally, The Washington Post reports that the US and other countries have pledged $20 million in humanitarian aid to Venezuela, and Guaido claims that this is a test for Maduro, since he may see this intervention as a plan to undercut his administration.
Tensions further increased on Jan. 29, when CNN reported that Trump’s national security advisor, John Bolton, left a meeting with a notepad containing the words “5,000 troops to Colombia.” Colombia, a US ally, claims no knowledge of the plan. However, taking into account Trump’s comment that “all options are on the table” when asked about military intervention in Venezuela, the words seem foreboding. The Venezuelan government certainly took the phrase as a provocation which led the Venezuelan defense minister to state that the military is “ready to die for its homeland,” according to CNN.
This is not Venezuela’s first run-in with the US; in 2002 America backed an anti-Chavez coup, and in 2018 drones with explosives attached attempted to assassinate Maduro, according to CNN. Maduro maintains that the US was involved in the plot.
Domestically, Maduro faces a disastrous economy. The Washington Post reports that Venezuela faces hyperinflation at over 1,000,000% inflation, which has made many basic consumer goods unobtainable. The crash in the oil market has contributed to this disaster; at its height in 2008 oil was $160 per barrel, and in 2018 oil was $45 a barrel. Additionally, Venezuela suffers from capital flight and US sanctions. Maduro’s opposition has also refused to participate in recent elections, calling them illegitimate, although this effectively handed the presidency and Constitutional Assembly to Maduro, it also de-legitimized the Chavistas’ authority.
As long as Venezuela’s economy is in a tailspin and Maduro keeps cracking down on civil rights, Venezuela won’t stabilize. However, Prof. Ugues points out that for now, the Venezuelan military still supports Maduro.