The United States has stepped up its rhetoric against Venezuela’s Maduro regime by declaring Juan Guaidó as interim president – a move which is also backed by Germany, Brazil and Canada. Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Caracas to hail Guaidó as the country’s new leader. But is this really the end for Nicolás Maduro, the man who has led his country into economic ruin? Unlike the protests in the capital in 2017 which were brutally quashed before they could spread elsewhere, these demonstrations are gathering pace all across the country. There are now local reports of members of the national army starting to side with the people.
Maduro has reacted by accusing the opposition of staging a coup, pointing the finger at Washington for meddling in Venezuela’s affairs. Yet it is clear that Guaidó, was a relative unknown until he was sworn in as leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly earlier this month, does enjoy much support. A former industrial engineer and leader of the opposition, he has been a long-standing critic of both Maduro and Chavez, calling for protests and the reinstatement of legitimate democracy. So far the contrast between Guaidó and Maduro could not be more stark: Maduro tried to extend his presidency through sham elections last May which were widely dismissed, whereas Guaidó has been careful to do everything by the book. He has argued that the Venezuelan constitution permits the appointment of the leader of the national assembly as interim president if the position of president is wrongfully assumed. If Maduro stood down, Guaidó would have to hold elections within 30 days by law – something he has committed to do.
The demonstrations he has organised in multiple Venezuelan cities also have a constitutional basis – in Venezuela, a demonstration of this sort is called a ‘cabildo’ (which translates roughly as a town hall meeting) – it holds legal weight and is an important mechanism in enabling Guaidó to mount a legal challenge to Maduro.
Despite claims of Trump’s administration plotting to bring down Maduro, the US has so far only offered words of support with no overt promise of military intervention.