Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro last night gave American diplomats 72 hours to leave the country after Washington threw its support behind opposition leader and National Assembly head Juan Guaidó, who has declared himself “president in charge”.
So far, Washington isn’t playing ball, refusing to remove its diplomats and clearly hedging its bets on Guaidó, a 35-year-old industrial engineer heading up the National Assembly, who the public wasn’t even aware of until he invoked the constitution to declare himself “president in charge” a month ago.
“The United States does not consider former president Nicolas Maduro to have the legal authority to break diplomatic relations with the United States or to declare our diplomats persona non grata.”
The violently protesting crowds in Caracas might be inclined to side with Washington on this, with Guaidó—who thinks he can unite the opposition--vowing earlier this month to “stay on the street until Venezuela is liberated!"
Meanwhile, Venezuela is on fire, and this is the turning point. Tens of thousands have taken to the streets since Maduro started his second term on January 11, and the ball is now definitively the military’s court. Where the guns end up being pointed determines what happens next. For now, the high-ranking portions of the military are behind Maduro. But that’s not enough, and the rank and file may decide that it’s too costly to keep defending him. Related: Is Gold Heading To $1,500?
Trump had no qualms about supporting Guaidó immediately. Nor did 11 countries in the Lima Group, while Mexico abstained from voting on the issue.
The European Council and Parliament both backed the National Assembly but fell short of recognizing Guaidó as interim president. Russia and Cuba, however, reiterated their recognition of Maduro.
Maduro is blaming Washington for meddling and the opposition for trying to stage a coup.
"We've had enough interventionism, here we have dignity, damn it!" he said in a televised address from the presidential palace. Some counter-demonstrations are also being held in support of Maduro, but these are reported to be on a much smaller scale.
But in an impoverished nation, even if lower ranks of the military are growing restless and angry, Maduro has managed to keep the security services on his side by rewarding them for the loyalty with higher wages and other benefits that are worth gold in this day and age.
Until last week, the general consensus was that Maduro wasn’t going anywhere soon, and had managed to become fully entrenched, despite the disastrous economic situation which includes hyperinflation forecast to hit 10 million percent this year, widespread shortages of food and medicine, and the fact that some 3 million have fled the country. New sanctions could await Maduro this week, too.
But predictions are a tricky business, and in this case, neither the opposition nor Maduro hold enough power, and the coming shifts will mean chaos and very likely violence.
By Charles Benavidez for Safehaven.com
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