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    US and Russia present competing proposals to UN Security Council on Venezuela

    Americas: Venezuela

    Venezuela's National Assembly head Juan Guaido declares himself president

    On Jan. 23, 2019, Juan Guaido,  the leader of the opposition and the head of Venezuela's National Assembly, declared Nicolas Maduro to be an illegitimate leader and proclaimed himself to be the country's acting president.  

    The event was spurred by the inauguration of Maduro as president earlier in January 2019 for a second term in office.  That second term was won in elections marred by boycotts and claims of fraud and irregularities. Once
    Guaido  became the president of the National Assembly, he wasted no time in arguing that Maduro's re-election in May of 2018 was rigged.  As such, he and the opposition said, Maduro's leadership had to be understood as illegitimate, and in keeping with Constitutional provisions, that would make him -- the president of the National Assembly -- the acting president of Venezuela. 

    Upon his self-declaration as acting president, Guaido called for the formation of a transitional government and fresh elections to be held in short order. 

    Another action item intended to hasten Maduro's exit was an informal vote at a rally in Caracas to gauge support for a possible amnesty law.  The law would exonerate police and military who support the opposition’s “restitution of democracy”  -- an effective military-backed ousting of Maduro from power. 

    While the proposal appeared to have support from among those in attendance, it would yet have to be passed into law by the National Assembly. One provision of the law would be the release of political prisoners -- a significant consideration in a country where Maduro has jailed almost 300 people for political reasons.

    For his part, Maduro appealed to the loyalty of the military, saying in an address at a military event in the state of Carabobo, "Traitors never, loyal always." He added, "Are you coupsters or are you constitutionalists? Are you pro-imperialist or anti-imperialists?"

    But Guaido's audacious moves have gained him support with thousands of people taking to the capital of Caracas to show their support. 

    While the Maduro government was being backed by Russia, China, Mexico, and Turkey,  Guaido was receiving backing from the international community with a growing list of countries, including the United States and many neighboring South American nation states, saying that they recognized him as the president of Venezuela.  As well, several European countries were demanding elections. 

    The Maduro government in Venezuela was dismissive of these calls. Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said “Europe is giving us eight days to do what? From where do you get the power to give a sovereign nation orders or an ultimatum? … Take care of your own affairs. Respect the self-determination of countries.” 

    Meanwhile, the United Kingdom was refusing to allow $1.2 billion in gold to  be accessed by the Maduro government.

    Speaking of this move, at a public address, Guaido said, “The decision of the Bank of England to not return gold to the usurpers is the beginning of the protection of Venezuelan assets. We are not going to permit more abuses and that they rob the money, food and medicines of Venezuelans ….The [gold] does not belong to the government, it should be used to attend to the health and feeding of Venezuelans.”

    Indeed, in the background of this political upheaval was the reality that 
    Venezuela was slipping into "failed state" status under Maduro's economic stewardship, hyperinflation, food scarcity, and an alarming rate of crime becoming commonplace.

    Despite growing international support, Maduro’s constitutional assembly, which usurped the powers of the freely elected National Assembly headed by Guaido, voided all legislative acts by the National Assembly.  This included Guaido’s designation as president.  It was unclear as to whether the acts of the constitutional assembly or the self-declaration by the freely elected National Assembly would actually be upheld as fully constitutional by law.  The evolving scenario in Venezuela set the stage for inevitable turmoil in the days going forward. 

    At a rally in Caracas on Jan. 26, 2019, Guaido urged his supporters to keep protesting if he was arrested and jailed -- as has been the case of most opposition politicians who have challenged Maduro's socialist regime.

    On Jan. 30, 2019, protesters gathered across Venezuela to call for an end to the presidency of Nicolas Maduro’s presidency.  Addressing a crowd of student supporters at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas, Gauido declared, “We are staying in the streets not just because of how bad things are, but also for the future.”

    Meanwhile, President Maduro was accusing the United States' leadership of trying to orchestrate his death.  In an interview with Russia's RIA news agency, Maduro  said United States President Donald Trump had ordered neighboring Colombia to kill him.

    As of the start of February 2019, the Venezuelan capital city of Caracas was rocked by rival protests involving supporters of President Maduro and supporters of the self-proclaimed president and opposition leader, Juan Guaido.  Addressing his base, Maduro reaffirmed that he was the only president of Venezuela.  On the other side of the equation, Guaido urged the anti-Maduro opposition supporters to keep up the protest movement and   "carry on in the streets."

    By mid-February 2019, the Venezuelan situation was becoming a proxy issue for rival world views. The United States was urging the United Nations Security Council to press Venezuela to hold fresh presidential elections. On the other side of the equation, Russia was proposing another United Nations resolution that would express concern over outside interference in Venezuela's internal affairs.

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