Venezuela has been plunged into an even deeper political crisis as an opposition leader backed by the United States and regional states declared himself acting president in a challenge to embattled socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
Juan Guaido, leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, took an unofficial oath making him interim president on January 23 nearly two weeks after Maduro was sworn in for a second six-year term following controversial elections last May boycotted by the opposition and condemned by western powers and most Latin American countries.
Guaido’s move, which was recognized by the United States and regional powers, appears to have caught Maduro off-guard and isolated him further. It has also created the prospect of a parallel government and increased social unrest and violence in the oil-rich country devastated by economic collapse.
All eyes will be on whether Maduro will be able to avoid elite fracture to maintain control, particularly among the army, whose leadership has so far backed him despite calls from the opposition for soldiers to take the side of the people.
Here is a look at the key players and institutions:
The socialist president has ruled Venezuela since narrowly winning disputed elections in 2013 following the death of his mentor, President Hugo Chavez. Maduro has since consolidated control over key state institutions, including the Supreme Court, military and the country’s main source of revenue, the state-oil company PDVSA. Under his leadership Venezuela’s economy has collapsed, plunging Venezuelans into deep poverty and forcing millions to flee the country. His regime has come under Western sanctions.
The 35-year-old Guaido was a relatively unknown until being sworn in as head of the National Assembly on January 6. His first act was to muster the body to condemn Maduro’s rule as “illegitimate” and declare its intention to establish an interim government leading to elections aimed at restoring democracy.
Juan Guaido declared himself acting president during an opposition rally against Maduro.
Guaido is a founding member of Popular Will, a more activist and confrontational party within the Democratic Unity Round Table (MUD), a motley umbrella group of more than a dozen opposition parties that has controlled the National Assembly since elections in 2015.
Guaido rose to the front of the divided opposition as its leading figures have been imprisoned, put under house arrest or fled into exile. Among those under house arrest are Popular Will leader Leopoldo Lopez, who is serving a sentence for allegedly inciting violence during anti-regime demonstrations in 2014.
National Assembly vs Constituent Assembly
The National Assembly was neutered of its power in 2017 by the Maduro loyalist Supreme Court and replaced by a pro-government Constituent Assembly tasked with rewriting the constitution. The opposition boycotted July 2017 elections for the Constituent Assembly, which it claimed illegally usurped the powers of the legislature.
The political crisis in 2017 unleashed street violence that left more than 100 people dead.