Venezuela slid deeper into the abyss this past week as Nicolás Maduro was sworn in for his second term as president on January 10. Most countries in the region and hemisphere believe Maduro’s rule is illegitimate and are refusing to recognize his presidency’s second term. The Venezuelan national assembly is dominated by Maduro’s opposition which also refuses to recognize his legitimacy. As a sign of how deeply divided the Venezuelan government has become, under its constitution the president is supposed to be sworn in in front of the national assembly, but instead Maduro refused and was sworn in in front if his hand-picked and pliant supreme court.
During his 80-minute inauguration speech, Maduro proclaimed, “We are a true, profound, popular and revolutionary democracy… not a democracy of the elites… of super-millionaires who go into power to enrich their economic group and to rob the people. And I, Nicolás Maduro Moros, am a genuinely and profoundly democratic president.” He also proclaimed in his address, “Venezuela is at the center of a world war led by the United States imperialism and its satellite countries.” But, he said, corrupt chavistas—those who support the ideology of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez—were a bigger threat than U.S. imperialism. “I want a new start for the Bolivarian Revolution,” he announced, “I want us to correct the many mistakes we have committed.”
The May 20 elections were widely condemned for not being free and fair with reports of coercion, fraud, and rigging. In a country in immense economic despair, where many citizens can no longer afford to eat, voters were tracked by forcing them to register for a national benefits card, or “Fatherland Card,” with the promise that if Maduro was reelected they would receive aid and food subsidies as a “prize.” It was part of a motto Nicolás Maduro termed “I give, you give.” Also, Maduro cracked down on his political critics and many boycotted the election altogether causing turnout to be an exceptionally low 46 percent. Maduro was said to have won with 68 percent of the vote in an election void of international observers.
On January 4, the Lima Group, which is composed of 13 regional countries and Canada, refused to recognize a second term by Maduro. Instead it urged Maduro to cede power to the national assembly. In its statement, the group stated that the May 20 election failed to “provide the guarantees or meet the international standards necessary for a free, just and transparent process.” Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador weakened the statement, however, by refusing to sign the document because of his belief of not interfering in other countries’ domestic affairs.
The U.S. has also had strong words condemning Maduro’s second term. In a statement State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said, “The people of Venezuela deserve to live in freedom in a democratic society governed by the rule of law. It is time to begin the orderly transition to a new government. We support the National Assembly’s call for all Venezuelans to work together, peacefully, to restore constitutional government and build a better future… The United States government will continue to use the full weight of U.S. economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of democracy in Venezuela.” The U.S. made clear it was standing behind Juan Guaido who heads the Venezuelan national assembly.
Guaido has said he is prepared to temporarily replace Maduro until the country can hold legitimate elections for a new president. He said he needs the support from the public, the armed forces, international groups, and other countries before attempting to form a transitional government. In front of a crowd that was chanting, “Guaido for president! Out with Maduro!” this past Friday he said, “The constitution gives me the legitimacy to carry out the charge of the presidency over the country to call elections. But I need backing from the citizens to make it a reality.” Guaido called for nationwide protests on January 23 which is the anniversary of the 1958 overthrow of the country’s former dictator, Marcos Perez Jimenez. The head of the Organization of American States, Secretary-General Luis Almagro, went further than others by saying in a tweet he already recognizes Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president.
With such domestic and international condemnation, the question is how much longer can Maduro stay in power? His leadership has been an abject failure for Venezuela. Its people are suffering greatly with millions fleeing to neighboring countries to escape economic desperation and surging crime rates. Sadly, the situation will get worse before it gets better. But it is clear that the people of Venezuela and the world want Nicolás Maduro gone.