Over the last two months, Venezuela has been going through a political and economic crisis with two claimants to the President’s chair and the US imposing sanctions to pressure the incumbent regime. Matters reached a head last week when opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who has declared himself acting President and has the support of the West, returned home after a self-imposed exile to cheering crowds in Caracas. He is trying to force out left-wing dictator Nicolas Maduro, President since 2013, who has declared himself winner of a controversial election.
Ever since the global crude oil downturn, Venezeula has slipped into an economic crisis. Its crime rate has doubled and inflation multiplied. The West-imposed sanctions have now led to a prolonged electricity blackout. A look at the events leading to the political crisis:
Rise of the leader
Guaidó, 35, was born in the beach town of Vargas, which was severely hit by flash floods in 1999. The family moved to Caracas, where Guaidó studied engineering. It was in 2006 that Guaidó emerged in politics, as one of the principal leaders campaigning for freedom of the press amid a crackdown by then President Hogo Chávez. Guaidó formed his party, Voluntad Popular, which is today leading the fight against Maduro. This year, Guaidó’s party declared him President of the National Assembly, the country’s Parliament.
The 2018 presidential elections marked a watershed in in Venezuela politics. Alleged irregularities led to the elections being discredited by several countries. Amid all this, Maduro assumed the presidency for a second time, leading to protests throughout the country.
With the executive and the judiciary under his control, Maduro sought to curtail the powers of the National Assembly.
The National Assembly resisted, with Guaidó questioning the government’s legitimacy. On January 22, Guaidó declared himself interim President. The West was quick to recognise his claim.
On February 23, Guaidó left for Colombia, circumventing a travel ban imposed on him by Venezuela’s Supreme Court. He also travelled to Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, and Ecuador, lobbying for humanitarian aid to be sent to crisis-hit Venezuela.
Guaidó’s return to Venezuela on March 4 was marked by spectacle. Ambassadors from 12 countries, including the United States, Germany, and Spain, arrived at the airport, impeding paramilitary forces from detaining Guaidó. The fuming Maduro expelled the German Ambassador on March 6.
Many believe that Guaidó’s return could spell trouble for Maduro. It appears difficult for Maduro to act against Guaidó, given his position as the National Assembly’s President, popularity among the masses, and the fact that 56 countries (according to a Reuters report) have now acknowledged his claim to the presidency. While the West backs Guaidó, Russia and China are supporting the government.
The Reuters report, however, quoted former US envoy Elliott Abrams as saying there are no signs that Maduro is open to negotiations to end the political impasse.