South American experts are watching events in Venezuela for a potential outbreak of violence after the head of the opposition party in legislature called President Nicolas Maduro’s second term “illegitimate” and asked the military to help “restore democracy.”
“We reaffirm the illegitimacy of Nicolas Maduro,” the National Assembly’s new president Juan Guaido said as he was sworn in at the start of a new legislative session, Agence France Presse reported.
“As of January 10, he will be usurping the presidency and consequently this National Assembly is the only legitimate representative of the people,” Guaido noted further.
The Venezuelan opposition boycotted Maduro’s May election, in which he won a second six-year term, over improprieties. Also, most of the international community condemned the election as a sham.
Foreign ministers from a dozen Latin American countries and Canada said at a meeting in Lima, Peru, that their governments would not recognize Maduro as Venezuela’s president if he tried to stay in office. They urged him to turn over authority to the National Assembly.
In a speech attended by lawmakers and members of Venezuela’s diplomatic corps, Guaido said that the military’s chain of command was “broken or usurped.” However, he called on the armed forces to support the National Assembly’s attempts “to restore democracy.”
He pledged to “generate conditions for a government of transition and to call for free elections.”
Venezuela has been in an economic freefall following years of socialist policies. The country has the largest known oil reserves and once was the crown jewel of South America, but its oil infrastructure has been decimated by years of neglect as oil output — and income — have tanked.
The socialist policies were enacted by the late President Hugo Chavez, and subsequently upheld and expanded by Maduro.
Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have fled to neighboring countries in search of better opportunities, which has sometimes led those countries to temporarily close their borders. Also, there has been much unrest among Venezuelans due to rank poverty and deplorable conditions with shortages of everything from food and medicines to commodities.
AFP did not say whether Maduro had agreed to step down or if he would compel the military to thwart any efforts by the National Assembly to remove him.
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