Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro begins a new six-year term. Opponents, at home and abroad, seek to weaken his rule.
President Nicolas Maduro celebrated the start to a second term as Venezuela’s leader on Thursday, but his world got smaller as countries seized upon the inauguration to cut back diplomatic ties and reject his legitimacy.
Once among Latin America’s wealthiest countries, Venezuela is enduring a historic crisis following two decades of socialist rule.
Maduro’s second six-year term extends the country’s socialist revolution amid widespread complaints.
Seventeen Latin American countries, the US and Canada denounced Maduro’s government as illegitimate in a measure adopted on Thursday.
Maduro rejected the accusation, vowing to continue the legacy of the late President Hugo Chavez and accused the US of trying to ignite unrest through its increasing economic sanctions.
“Venezuela is the centre of a world war led by the North American imperialists and its allies,” he declared in a speech after his swearing-in. “They have tried to convert a normal inauguration into a world war.”
Maduro, Chavez’s hand-picked successor, took the helm of government after narrowly winning election following Chavez’s 2013 death. He denies being a dictator and often accuses President Donald Trump of leading an economic war against Venezuela that is destroying the country.
In May, Maduro declared victory following an election that his political opponents and many foreign nations consider illegitimate because the largest anti-government parties boycotted the race.
TRT World‘s Juan Carlos Lamas reports from Caracas.
Increasing international pressure
On Thursday, the Organisation of American States voted not to recognise the legitimacy of Maduro’s second term, adopting a resolution presented by Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, the US, Paraguay and Peru. Venezuela’s ambassador to the OAS, Samuel Moncada, denounced the move as “a hostile act … against the will of our nation.”
Paraguay went a step further, severing diplomatic ties. Peru also called home its top diplomat from Caracas in protest and banned 100 members of Maduro’s administration from entering the country. Argentina suspended Venezuelan diplomatic and official passports for banned high-ranking members of Maduro’s administration from entering.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that the United States would keep up pressure in support of the Venezuelan people.
“It is time for Venezuelan leaders to make a choice,” Pompeo said. “Now is the time to convince the Maduro dictatorship that the moment has arrived for democracy to return to Venezuela.”
Argentine President Mauricio Macri also denounced Maduro, saying he lacks the authenticity won through honest elections despite the elaborate inauguration ceremony.
“Nicolas Maduro today is making a mockery of democracy,” Macri said on Twitter. “Venezuelans know it, the world knows it. Venezuela lives under a dictatorship.”
Most countries from Europe and Latin American didn’t send representatives to the swearing-in.
Presidents Miguel Diaz-Canel of Cuba, Evo Morales of Bolivia and Anatoli Bibilov of a breakaway province of Georgia were among the few foreign leaders who attended the ceremony at the country’s Supreme Court.
Venezuela, which sits atop the world’s largest oil reserves, produced 3.5 million barrels of crude daily when Chavez took power.
Output has plummeted to less than a third of that. Critics blame years of rampant corruption and mismanagement of the state-run oil company PDVSA.
The Trump administration has increased pressure on Maduro through financial sanctions, targeting dozens in Maduro’s government. US banks are also banned from doing business with Venezuela, putting a financial strangle-hold on the cash-strapped country.
While Maduro’s popularity has plunged amid scarcities and hyperinflation, which sparked a mass emigration, supporters who receive government subsidies in shantytowns continue to back him.
“It’s not the president’s fault,” said Frances Velazquez, a 43-year-old mother of two who survives with the help of government-subsidized boxes of rice, flour and cooking oil. Velazquez blamed opportunists who drive up the prices of scarce items for making life difficult for families like hers.