By Keryn Nelson

Political unrest in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has worsened over the past few weeks, as tens of thousands take to the streets of Caracas in protest for and against the Nicolas Maduro administration.

Many of the disgruntled protestors are believed to be supporters of the Juan Guaidóled opposition. Guaidósweared an oath to assume the post of interim president on January 23, 2019, despite Maduro’s claims to power following the country’s May 2018 elections. 

Juan: “I swear, to formally assume the powers of the National Executive as the president in charge of Venezuela.” His first act as interim president, Guaidósaid, would be to call for free elections. The opposition believes Guaidólost the elections to Maduro due to fraud and irregularities—which was alleged by the company in control of Venezuela’s 2018 voting machines. 

After Maduro took to office on January 10, 2019 soldiers staged a failed coup to incite a movement tooverthrow the president. Two days later, demonstrations against the Madurogovernment were scheduled to take place in Caracas. However, Maduro’s supporters turned up in counter protest.

UN human rights High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet said 20 people have lost their lives during last week’s protests. Bachelet said she was informed by “incredible sources” that the slain protestors were gunned down by security forces or members of pro-Maduro armed groups, during Tuesday and Wednesday’s rival demonstrations.

While chaos ensued in the streets of Venezuela’s capital city, United States president Donald Trump issued this tweet on January 23: “The citizens of Venezuela have suffered for too long at the hands of illegitimate Maduro regime. Today, I have officially recognized the President of Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as the interim President of Venezuela.” Trumps words echoed a public statement issued by US Vice President, Mike Pence to the Venezuelan government. 

Pence said, in part, “Nicolas Maduro is a dictator, with no legitimate claim to power. He’s never won the presidency in a free and fair election, and has maintained his grip of power by imprisoning anyone who dares to oppose him. The United States joins with all freedom loving nations in recognizing the national assembly as the last vestige of democracy in [Venezuela], for its the only body elected by you, the people. The US supports the courageous decision by Juan Guaidó, the president of your national assembly to assert that body’s constitutional powers, declare Maduro a usurper, and call for the establishment of a transitional government.” 

However, in response, Maduro referred to the statements made by US politicians as “interfering” and later declared during a public conference, “I have decided to break diplomatic and political relations with the imperialist government of the United States.” Representatives in The United States consulate office in Venezuelawere then given an order to evacuate the country within 72 hours. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also ordered all non-emergency U.S. diplomats in Venezuela to leave.

Meanwhile, Caribbean leaders have condemned the Trump administration. 

Antigua’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne told the Miami Herald, The majority of countries that are in Caricom do not accept Juan Guaidó as the interim president … In fact, we believe that it is an extremely dangerous precedent… which has absolutely no basis in law, it has no constitutional backing, it has no support of international law, and it’s really an affront to democracy within the hemisphere.” 

Haiti however, in early January, joined the United States, Columbia, Canada and others by standing against Maduro’s second term reign and openly recognizing Juan Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela. The Bahamas government have also agreed to recognize Guaidó as the interim president.

Two Caricom nations; Saint Lucia and Jamaica, once sided against Maduro however have now changed course on the basis that the situation has become increasingly volatile and in an effort to commit to the long-standing principle of non-interference and non-intervention. Guyana on the other hand, has not taken a stance.

Maduro has so far refused to step down as government leader, while Guaido offers amnesty to Maduro in exchange for a “peaceful transition.” “Amnesty is an option. Those guarantees are there for everyone who is willing to be on the side of the constitution to recover the constitutional order,” says Guaidó.