Thousands Protest As Venezuela Parliament Head Declares Himself ‘Acting President’
National Assembly head Juan Guaido proclaimed himself Venezuela’s “acting president” on Wednesday in a bid to oust leftist President Nicolas Maduro that was immediately endorsed by US President Donald Trump.
Tens of thousand of people jammed the streets of Caracas in an outpouring of support for Maduro’s ouster amid a dire economic crisis that has devastated the once rich oil-producing country.
“I swear to formally assume the national executive powers as acting president of Venezuela to end the usurpation, (install) a transitional government and hold free elections,” Guaido declared to cheering supporters.
Trump immediately issued a statement in Washington describing Maduro as “illegitimate” and calling the National Assembly “the only legitimate branch of government duly elected by the Venezuelan people.”
The head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, congratulated Guaido in a tweet. “You have all our recognition to launch the return of democracy to the country,” he wrote.
In Caracas, tens of thousands of opposition supporters, many dressed in white, chanted: “Guaido, friend, the people are with you” as they waved Venezuelan flags.
“Brothers and sisters: today I step forward with you in the knowledge that we are in a dictatorship,” said Guaido.
Venezuela’s Supreme Court, which is dominated by Maduro loyalists, ordered a criminal investigation of parliament for trying to depose Maduro.
Thousands of Maduro supporters, many wearing red, converged outside the presidential palace to oppose what they see as a US-backed opposition coup attempt.
Since being elected president of the National Assembly in December, the 35-year-old Guaido has quickly managed to rally a previously divided opposition.
The Supreme Court’s criminal chamber ratified the “unconstitutionality of the legislative power’s actions” but Guaido dismissed the judges as ruling party leaders “disguised as magistrates.”
He dismissed fears he could be arrested, saying: “I’m afraid for our people who are suffering.”
Maduro has presided over a deepening economic crisis that has left millions in poverty as the country faces shortages of basic necessities such as food and medicine.
Some 2.3 million people have fled the country since 2015, according to the United Nations, while the International Monetary Fund says inflation will hit a staggering 10 million percent this year.
Ahead of Wednesday’s rival protests, five people died from gunshot wounds in overnight clashes, the Social Conflict Observatory NGO reported.
Shops, schools and businesses remained closed on Wednesday while there was little traffic on the roads.
Trouble had been expected, with Venezuela’s government ominously warning there would be violence against opposition protesters.
Guaido called the opposition protest two weeks ago in a bid to rally support behind his aim to remove Maduro, set up a transitional government and hold elections.
He has accused Maduro of being a usurper in relation to the leader’s disputed re-election last year.
Maduro won snap elections in May that were boycotted by the opposition and dismissed as a fraud by the European Union, the US and OAS.