Today, as food and medicine shortages, and political instability, and an escalating financial crisis continue affecting Venezuela, scores of people hit the streets to protest President Nicolás Maduro. The National Assembly, which is controlled by the opposition and Maduro stripped of power in 2017, has pushed for new elections and called for the marches after it accused Maduro of “usurping power.” The protests take place about two weeks after Maduro began his second term, as well as on the 61st anniversary of an uprising that ousted Marcos Evangelista Pérez Jiménez.
Today also marks the day when opposition leader Juan Guaidó, a 35-year-old engineer, swore himself in as the South American country’s legitimate president. “Raise your right hand, today, January 23rd 2019, in my condition as President of the National Assembly, invoking the articles of the Constitution – before Almighty God,” Guaidó said, according to CNN. “I swear to formally assume the power of the National Executive Office as the President of Venezuela.”
Since then, several leaders from the Americas, including Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Canada, Argentina, and the United States have recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president. “Today, I am officially recognizing the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, as the Interim President of Venezuela,” US President Donald Trump said in a statement. “In its role as the only legitimate branch of government duly elected by the Venezuelan people, the National Assembly invoked the country’s constitution to declare Nicolás Maduro illegitimate, and the office of the presidency therefore vacant. The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law.”
With leaders of countries speaking out in favor of Guaidó, Maduro has responded by breaking off relations with the United States. Speaking from the balcony of the presidential palace, he ordered all US diplomatic personnel to leave the country within 72 hours.
“The imperial government of the United States is leading a coup attempt against us in order to install a puppet presidency that they can control in Venezuela,” he said when he addressed the crowd.
Guaidó, who has encouraged people to stay on the streets until “Venezuela is liberated,” countered by telling all embassy personnel to remain in the country.
“Through the powers that the Constitution grants me, I would like to communicate to all leaders of diplomatic missions and their accredited staff in Venezuela – the state of Venezuela firmly wants you to maintain your diplomatic presence in our country,” he said in a statement. “Any message to the contrary lack any validity, since they come from people or entities that have been characterized as usurpers. They have no legitimate authority to make any statements on this.”
As the two sides grapple for power, the people – waving flags and carrying signs – have put their bodies on the line as they continue pushing for a government without Maduro. In Caracas, Venezuelan forces fired tear gas at protesters blocking a highway, according to Reuters.