Trump, Guaido To Meet Over Venezuela Crisis

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido speaks during a rally to commemorate May Day in Caracas/ AFP


US President Donald Trump will receive Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido on Wednesday for talks on how to speed a democratic transition in his country, the White House said.

Guaido, whom the United States and more than 50 other countries recognize as Venezuela’s acting president, is seeking renewed international support for his push to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

The Oval Office meeting at 2:15 pm (1915 GMT) follows Trump’s vow in a State of the Union speech Tuesday night — with Guaido in the audience as his guest — that “Maduro’s grip of tyranny will be smashed and broken.”

“The visit is an opportunity to reaffirm the commitment of the United States to the people of Venezuela and to discuss how we can work with President Guaido to expedite a democratic transition in Venezuela that will end the ongoing crisis,” the White House said in a statement.

“We will continue to work with our partners in the region to confront the illegitimate dictatorship in Venezuela, and we will stand alongside the Venezuelan people to ensure a future that is democratic and prosperous,” it said.

Maduro so far has weathered Guaido’s yearlong push for his ouster, which initially spark massive anti-government protest but has since lost momentum despite a deep economic crisis that has driven millions to emigrate.

As head of the National Assembly, Guaido proclaimed himself acting president in January 2019 after the legislature declared Maduro a “usurper” who was re-elected through fraud.


Venezuelan Opposition Leader To Attend World Economic Forum In Davos

Venezuelan opposition leader and self declared acting president Juan Guaido delivers a speech during the Venezuela Oil Industry Forum in Caracas on February 15, 2019.  Juan BARRETO / AFP


Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido will attend this week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, lawmaker Stalin Gonzalez told AFP on Monday.

Guiado is currently in Colombia where he is due to meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo but Gonzalez, a Guaido ally, said the parliament speaker will then head to Switzerland for the annual economic meeting that opens on Tuesday.


Guaido, Pompeo Meet In Colombia Over Venezuela Crisis

Venezuelan opposition leader and self-declared acting president Juan Guaido delivers a speech during the Venezuela Oil Industry Forum in Caracas on February 15, 2019.  Juan BARRETO / AFP


Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido has traveled to Colombia to meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, an opposition lawmaker said Sunday.

Guaido’s move comes amid an overture by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro for direct negotiations with the United States on an end to crippling US sanctions.

Opposition lawmaker Stalin Gonzalez told AFP that Guaido, who is recognized by the United States and more than 50 other countries as Venezuela’s acting president, will meet in Bogota with Pompeo.

The US secretary of state is scheduled to arrive in the Colombian capital on Monday at the start of a Latin American tour.

Guaido has been barred from leaving Venezuela since proclaiming himself acting president a year ago after the National Assembly declared President Nicolas Maduro a “usurper.”

He defied the travel ban once before, in February 2016, when he secretly traveled to Colombia and then visited several other countries to marshal regional support for his challenge to Maduro.

The United States has been Guaido’s leading international supporter but the opposition bid to force Maduro’s ouster has stalled.

Guaido has headed the National Assembly for the past year but faced a challenge early this month from Maduro supporters over his re-election.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Maduro said he was comfortably in control and ready for direct negotiations with the United States.

“If there’s respect between governments, no matter how big the United States is, and if there’s a dialogue, an exchange of truthful information, then be sure we can create a new type of relationship,” Maduro told the Post.

The socialist leader said he was ready to hold talks with the US to negotiate an end to sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump intended to throttle the South American country’s oil industry and force Maduro from power.

Maduro indicated that, if Trump were to lift sanctions, US oil companies could benefit immensely from Venezuela’s oil.

“A relationship of respect and dialogue brings a win-win situation. A confrontational relationship brings a lose-lose situation. That’s the formula,” Maduro said.



Guaido Warns Maduro Against Moving Legislative Elections Forward

US Seeks UN Draft Resolution Calling For Venezuela Elections
The President of Venezuela’s National Assembly and self-proclaimed acting president Juan Guaido (L) and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (R) delivering speeches in Caracas on February 8, 2018. Juan BARRETO, Federico PARRA / AFP


Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido warned President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday that any attempts to bring forward parliamentary elections would end in “disaster” for the government.

Elections to renew the National Assembly, the only branch of government under opposition control, are set for December 2020.

But the Constituent Assembly, a rival body created by the Maduro regime and given extraordinary powers superseding the National Assembly, has hinted at the possibility of ordering early elections.

Such a maneuver could threaten the opposition’s hold on the National Assembly and with it Guaido’s claim as head of the legislature to be the country’s legitimate president.

But Guaido insisted it would backfire, further isolating Maduro, who has so far withstood opposition challenges to his presidency with the support of the military.

“What would happen if the regime dared to — and it could — bring forward an irregular convocation for elections without any conditions?” said Guaido.

“They will drown in contradictions, in isolation — they will drown in disaster.”

Constituent Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, the most powerful regime figure after Maduro, admitted on Monday the move was a “counter-attack” after the United States increased its sanctions on the government.

Venezuela has been locked in a political crisis since the legislature branded Maduro a “usurper” in January over his controversial re-election last year in a poll widely denounced as rigged.

As the head of the National Assembly, Guaido demanded Maduro step down and declared himself acting president in a move recognized by more than 50 countries.

The government and the opposition have engaged in Norwegian-mediated talks but those negotiations appear blocked over the opposition’s demand that Maduro step down so new elections can be held.

In the meantime, the regime has stepped up pressure on opposition legislators by stripping 25 of them of their parliamentary immunity over their alleged support for a failed April uprising instigated by Guaido.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini’s spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said these moves were “another direct attack on the only democratically elected body in Venezuela.”

US President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton urged the “international community to hold the tyrant Maduro accountable.”


Venezuela Crisis: ‘I Am Very Optimistic’, Says Maduro After Talks With Opposition

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro


Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro said Monday he was “optimistic” after dialogue between his government and the opposition resumed in Barbados.

The South American nation was plunged into political turmoil in January when National Assembly speaker Juan Guaido declared himself acting president in a direct challenge to Maduro’s authority.

The opposition leader is recognized by the United States and more than 50 other countries but has been unable to dislodge Venezuela’s socialist leader, who is backed by Russia, China and Cuba.

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Delegations from both sides arrived in Barbados Monday morning to revive discussions after a previous round in Norway petered out.

“I am very optimistic… Today they had a five-hour session, and I think that step by step, with strategic patience, we can find a path to peace,” Maduro said in a broadcast on the state television channel VTV.

Without giving details, he said that a six-point agenda was being discussed with “the whole country in mind.”

“If you work with goodwill and there is no American interventionism, I am sure that we will reach an agreement,” said Maduro, who blames the United States for fanning the crisis.

The Barbados talks will be the third round since the Oslo talks in May, although Guaido had originally said last Tuesday there were no plans to re-open talks with Maduro’s “murderous dictatorship” following the death of an officer in custody over an alleged coup plot.

The suspicious death of retired naval officer Rafael Acosta Arevalo had sparked international condemnation.

Guaido said Sunday he wants the talks to lead them towards Maduro’s departure from the presidency he has held since 2013 to a transitional government, and then “free elections with international observers”.

 Ravaged by crises 

Some members of the opposition oppose the Barbados talks, fearing they may reinvigorate Maduro, but Enrique Marquez, vice president of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly, said they are the best option.

“A violent solution… could generate loss of governance even for a new government,” he told AFP.

Along with the negotiations in Barbados, Guaido had a closed-door meeting on Monday in the capital Caracas with Enrique Iglesias, the European Union’s special advisor for Venezuela.

Afterwards, Iglesias met with Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez.

“Iglesias has confirmed his commitment to the dialogue process,” Rodriguez said on Twitter.

Oil-rich Venezuela has been ravaged by five years of recession marked by shortages of food, medicine and other basic necessities, and the economic woes have been exacerbated by the political crisis.

Delegations representing the Venezuelan rivals met face-to-face in Oslo for the first time in late May, in a process begun two weeks earlier under Norwegian auspices to find a solution to the nation’s multiple crises.

Maduro has repeatedly said that the dialogue will continue with the opposition “for peace in Venezuela.”

Guaido has called Maduro a “usurper” for staying in power after a 2018 election widely dismissed as a sham.

Meanwhile, Panamanian President Laurentino Cortizo stressed in a TV interview that military intervention is not the solution to the Venezuelan crisis, and offered his country’s assistance in reaching a negotiated solution.


Venezuela’s Guaido Accuses Maduro’s Govt Of ‘Dismantling’ Legislature

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido speaks during a rally to commemorate May Day in Caracas/ AFP


Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido on Thursday accused President Nicolas Maduro’s government of “dismantling” the National Assembly legislature he heads following the arrest of his deputy Edgar Zambrano.

“If we can talk about a coup d’etat in Venezuela, here it is: the dismantling of the national parliament,” Guaido told a news conference.

On Wednesday night, Zambrano was arrested by Maduro’s secret services for supporting a failed April 30 uprising organized by Guaido.

Venezuela Says ‘Attempted Coup’ Underway

FILE PHOTO: Venezuela’s National Assembly head Juan Guaido declares himself the country’s “acting president” during a mass opposition rally against leader Nicolas Maduro, on the anniversary of a 1958 uprising that overthrew military dictatorship in Caracas.
Federico PARRA / AFP


Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed acting president Juan Guaido said on Tuesday that troops had joined his campaign to oust President Nicolas Maduro as the government vowed to put down what it called an attempted coup.

Hundreds of people, many waving Venezuelan flags, flocked onto a highway near a Caracas military base, and police responded with tear-gas as some of the demonstrators broke away to throw rocks at security forces.

The government said it was “deactivating” an attempted coup by a small group of “treacherous” soldiers.

“We are currently facing and deactivating a small group of treacherous military personnel who took positions in the Altamira distributor road (in Caracas) to promote a coup d’etat,” Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez said on Twitter.

“We call on the people to remain on maximum alert to — with our glorious National Bolivarian Armed Forces — defeat the attempted coup and preserve peace,” he said.

The US, meanwhile, threw its full support behind Guaido, with the White House calling on the military to protect the people and support the country’s “legitimate institutions,” including the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

“The U.S. Government fully supports the Venezuelan people in their quest for freedom and democracy. Democracy cannot be defeated,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Twitter.

In a video recorded at Caracas’ La Carlota military air base and posted on social media, the US-backed Guaido said troops had heeded months of urging to join his campaign to oust Maduro.

“Today brave soldiers, brave patriots, brave men supporting the constitution have answered our call,” he said.

Television images showed soldiers and Guaido supporters on a road outside the base milling around without urgency.

Hundreds of people gradually joined the group on a highway overpass near the base, many waving Venezuelan flags.

President Ivan Duque of neighboring Colombia — home to more than a million refugees from Maduro’s regime — called on Twitter for “soldiers and the people of Venezuela to place themselves on the right side of history, rejecting dictatorship and Maduro’s usurption.”

Colombia also said it was calling an emergency meeting of the Lima Group — a grouping of major Latin American nations plus Canada focused on Venezuela.

Internet observatory NetBlocks reported in a Twitter message that “multiple internet services” were restricted in Venezuela following Guaido’s appeal.

Tuesday’s call comes ahead of plans to hold a massive Mayday protest in Caracas that Guaido has termed “the biggest march in Venezuela’s history.”

‘Definitive phase’

In his video, Guaido appeared alongside high-profile opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez who had been put under house arrest by Maduro’s regime but who announced he had been “freed” by soldiers supporting Guaido.

Lopez posted a picture on Twitter with men in uniform, and said it was taken at the La Carlota military base in eastern Caracas.

“Venezuela: the definitive phase to end the usurpation, Operation Liberty, has begun,” read the message.

Venezuela’s Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez asserted on Twitter that the situation in military barracks and bases in the country was “normal.”

Tensions in Venezuela have been ratcheted up to a critical level this year, after Guaido, who is head of the opposition-ruled National Assembly, announced January 23 that he was the acting president under the constitution. He said Maduro had been fraudulently re-elected last year.

The United States and major Latin American powers including Brazil, Peru and Chile swiftly backed Guaido, followed later by EU nations.

But Maduro, who since taking over from his late mentor Hugo Chavez in 2013 has presided over a catastrophic economic implosion, has been able to count on support from Russia and China, Venezuela’s two biggest creditors.

Although US President Donald Trump has repeatedly said “all options” are on the table regarding Venezuela — including, implicitly, military action — there has been no noticeable US military mobilization.

Instead, Washington has upped the economic pressure, through sanctions aimed at Maduro’s regime and by cutting sales of Venezuelan oil — the South American country’s main revenue earner.

It also warned against any attempt to arrest Guaido, who has been left free to roam Venezuela and hold rallies.

Maduro and his government have repeatedly accused the United States of trying to foment a coup, and blame the economic devastation in the country on the tightening US sanctions. In Madrid, the government warned against bloodshed.

Spanish government spokeswoman Isabel Celaa said Madrid backed a “peaceful” outcome in Venezuela, and wanted to see “democratic elections” take place there.

Britain, among the powers that recognize Guaido as interim president, called for a “peaceful resolution” to the crisis.

“Venezuelan people deserve a better future, they have suffered enough and the Maduro regime must end,” a spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said.

Maduro’s leftist allies Cuba and Bolivia condemned Guaido.

Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel slammed Guaido for creating “anxiety and terror” in Caracas. “We reject this coup movement that aims to fill the country with violence.”

Bolivia’s Evo Morales said Guaido was “beholden to foreign interests.”

He added that he was sure that “the brave Bolivarian Revolution led by brother Nicolas Maduro will beat this new attack by the empire (the US)”.


US Asks UN To Recognize Guaido As Venezuela’s Leader

Venezuelan opposition leader and self declared acting president Juan Guaido delivers a speech during the Venezuela Oil Industry Forum in Caracas on February 15, 2019.  Juan BARRETO / AFP



US Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday asked the United Nations to recognize Juan Guaido as the legitimate leader of Venezuela, telling the Security Council: “Nicolas Maduro must go.”

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Washington will present a draft resolution to the Security Council aimed at recognizing Guaido and appointing his representative as the ambassador to the world body, Pence told the council.


UN Urges Venezuela To Lower Tensions After Arrest Of Guaido’s Aide

Venezuelan opposition leader  Juan Guaido/ AFP


The United Nations called Thursday for a lowering of tensions in Venezuela following the arrest of Juan Guaido’s chief of staff that prompted the United States to demand his immediate release.

“We’ve learned with concern reports of the detention of Juan Guaido’s chief of staff,” said UN spokesman Farhan Haq.

“We renew our call on all actors in Venezuela to take immediate steps to lower tensions and refrain from any action that could lead to further escalation.”

About 15 officers detained Roberto Marrero during a raid in the early hours on Thursday on his home in Caracas and took him to an unknown location.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the arrest, called for Marrero’s immediate release and vowed to hold those involved accountable.

Guaido declared himself interim president on January 23 and has the backing of the United States and more than 50 other countries in his standoff with President Nicolas Maduro.


Venezuelan Opposition Plans Fresh Protest Against Maduro As Guaido Returns

US Seeks UN Draft Resolution Calling For Venezuela Elections
Juan Guaido (L)                                                                  President Nicolas Maduro (R)/ AFP


Opposition supporters in Venezuela were set to take to the streets Monday after leader Juan Guaido called for mass protests against President Nicolas Maduro — as the self-declared interim president prepared to return after a week touring Latin American allies.

Guaido’s reappearance in Venezuela would pose an immediate challenge to the embattled Maduro, who will have to decide whether to arrest him for defying a travel ban — thereby provoking strong international condemnation — or allow him to enter unmolested, which would undermine his authority, analyst say.

“I’m announcing my return to the country. I am calling on the Venezuelan people to mobilize all over the country tomorrow at 11:00 am (1500 GMT),” Guaido wrote Sunday on Twitter.

Later, in a video with his wife shared on his social networks, he said if Maduro’s government “tries to kidnap us … it will be one of the last mistakes it makes.”

Guaido, who has been recognized by more than 50 countries as Venezuela’s interim president, did not say how or when he would return, though speculation is rife that a flight from the Colombian capital Bogota to Caracas is the most likely route.

However, it is possible that he plans to slip across the border with Colombia in the same way he left Venezuela, claiming on that occasion that he had help from Maduro’s military.

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Guaido held talks in Salinas — a coastal resort town west of Guayaquil — on Saturday with President Lenin Moreno, and met with Venezuelan refugees.

On Sunday around noon, he flew out of Salinas without revealing his destination.

‘Must return to Venezuela’ 

Defying a Venezuelan government travel ban, Guaido slipped across the border to Colombia on February 23 in an attempt to escort in truckloads of international humanitarian aid. While in Colombia he met with visiting US Vice President Mike Pence.

The 35-year-old political newcomer then traveled to Brazil, where he met the country’s new right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, and on Friday traveled to Paraguay and Argentina.

In a poke at Maduro during his trip, he said he was invited to visit Chile later this month.

Guaido, who heads the opposition-led National Assembly, stunned the world on January 23 when he proclaimed himself Venezuela’s acting president after the legislature declared Maduro a usurper and illegitimate over his May 2017 re-election, which was widely criticized as fraudulent. Maduro’s new term in office began on January 10.

Guaido wants to oust Maduro and set up a transitional government ahead of new elections.

Guaido “must return to Venezuela and continue to press internally, as the international support is enormous,” Eufracio Infante, 64, a Venezuelan lawyer and history teacher, told AFP.

“We are facing a very delicate situation and every minute we are approaching an outcome we hope will not be catastrophic,” he said.

Maduro — who retains the support of Venezuela’s powerful military — enjoys strong support from Russia, which accuses Washington of interventionism, and China, which is concerned over the fate of billions of dollars in loans to Maduro’s regime.

The socialist president warned last week that Guaido should “respect the law” and would have to “face justice” if he returns to the country.

Guaido said last week he intended to return to Venezuela “despite threats” to arrest him. The United States and other allies have expressed concern for his safety.

“The challenge has gone very far,” political analyst Luis Salamanca told AFP. “If he comes in and they stop him, it will generate strong internal reaction as well as internationally. Maduro is at permanent risk.”

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini warned on Saturday that any measure that would put at risk Guaido’s “freedom, safety or personal integrity would represent a major escalation of tensions and meet the firm condemnation of international community.”

“Guaido has grown so much politically that they haven’t been able to touch him, in the traditional ways … which is to put him in prison or force him to flee the country, harass him,” said Salamanca.

Separately, Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera sharply criticized UN rights commissioner Michelle Bachelet — Chile’s president 2006-2010 and 2014-2018 — on Sunday for failing to condemn Maduro for human rights violations.

Pinera, a Chilean billionaire elected president for the second time in 2017, is a key supporter of Guaido, and joined the Venezuelan opposition leader in Cucuta, Colombia last weekend in a failed attempt to send international humanitarian aid into Venezuela.

Pinera said in an interview published in the El Mercurio newspaper that Bachelet’s predecessor at the UN, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein of Jordan, “was much clearer, more categorical in condemning human rights abuses.”


Venezuela Crisis: Guaido Meets With Foreign Allies For Anti-Maduro Strategy

Venezuelan opposition leader and self declared acting president Juan Guaido delivers a speech during the Venezuela Oil Industry Forum in Caracas on February 15, 2019. Juan BARRETO / AFP


Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido is meeting with members of a multinational support group in Bogota Monday to hammer out a strategy to remove his rival Nicolas Maduro from office.

The trip comes after two people were killed and hundreds wounded as Guaido supporters clashed with Venezuelan security forces in a failed attempt to cross in truckloads of humanitarian aid from Colombia and Brazil.

The European Union condemned Venezuela’s use of violence and armed civilians to block the aid entry, while United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “shocked and saddened” by the civilian deaths.

Guaido, the 35-year-old leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly, declared himself acting president in January after the opposition-controlled legislature concluded that Maduro was fraudulently re-elected.

Some 50 countries recognize him as Venezuela’s legitimate president.

Maduro’s ‘days numbered’ 

Guaido flew to the Colombian capital Sunday for the meeting with members of the Lima Group – 13 Latin American countries plus Canada that are seeking to resolve Venezuela’s political impasse.

Vice President Mike Pence will represent Washington at the event.

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was confident that “Maduro’s days are numbered,” blaming the border violence on armed civilian loyalists known as “colectivos.”

“We’re aimed at a singular mission — ensuring the Venezuelan people get the democracy they so richly deserve,” Pompeo said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

President Donald Trump has said the United States is not ruling out armed action.

Upon landing in Bogota Guaido called on the international community to consider “all measures to free” Venezuela.

This is the first time that the Lima Group, which first met in the Peruvian capital in 2017, will speak directly to Guaido.

Venezuela is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis that has seen poverty soar during a prolonged recession and hyperinflation.

Humanitarian aid, much of it from the United States, has been at the center of the standoff between Maduro and Guaido.

Maduro claims the aid is a smokescreen for a US invasion and has ordered several crossings on Venezuela’s borders with Colombia and Brazil closed.

 ‘Victory consolidated’ 

“Today we consolidated yesterday’s victory, tomorrow we’ll consolidate it even more,” Maduro’s right-hand man Diosdado Cabello said Sunday at a pro-government rally in the border town of Tachira.

“Not a single one of those trucks with aid got through,” Cabello said.

Maduro seems to have won this round in the power struggle, even though 156 members of Venezuela’s security forces deserted to Colombia or Brazil.

After Saturday’s events it is “not very clear” that Guaido has “massive” support in Venezuela, analyst Rafael Pineros told AFP.

However, the events, which also led to increased repression by the Maduro regime, may instead result in a forceful foreign intervention in Venezuela, according to political scientist Laura Gil.

“In the Lima Group the consensus is that Maduro must be removed, but there is no consensus on how to do that,” Gil told AFP.

Another winner is Washington, because the only way to justify a use of force, if they are willing to actually do that, “is by invitation,” she said.

 ‘No food’ in the barracks 

Colombian President Ivan Duque visited the two border crossing points where most of the violence took place on Saturday.

A 14-year-old boy was among those killed Saturday near the Brazilian border in clashes with Venezuelan security forces. More than 300 people were injured in a day of disturbances at crossings on the Colombian and Brazilian borders.

Sporadic clashes between hooded protesters and police, supported by terror-spreading armed civilian “colectivos,” continued Sunday on the Venezuelan side of the border, but were not as intense as the day before.

Scores of Venezuelans who managed to slip across the border to get aid were trapped there as Venezuelan authorities had closed the border.

Nicolasa Gil, a frail 71-year-old who spent the night in Cucuta near one of the crossing points, said she was “scared to cross into my country.

“Here we’re safer than over there,” she told AFP.

The attempt to cross aid stockpiled in Colombia led Maduro to sever ties with Bogota – and on Sunday, a group of Colombian diplomats trickled across one of the border bridges on foot, luggage in tow.

Also, Sunday three Bolivarian National Guard sergeants fled Venezuela and sought refuge in Brazil.

In the barracks “there is no food,” said one of the defectors, identified as Carlos Eduardo Zapata.

“They don’t even have mattresses. Us National Guard sergeants are sleeping on the ground.”


Venezuela Crisis: Japan Backs Guaido, Calls For Fresh Elections

Venezuelan opposition leader and self declared acting president Juan Guaido delivers a speech during the Venezuela Oil Industry Forum in Caracas on February 15, 2019. Juan BARRETO / AFP


Japan’s foreign minister on Tuesday declared his country’s support for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has declared himself interim president in a challenge to ruling leader Nicolas Maduro.

“Our country has called for early elections… but unfortunately elections have not been held yet,” Foreign Minister Taro Kono said at a press conference.

“Considering the circumstances, our country clearly backs provisional president Guaido. We once again call on the country to hold free and fair elections,” Kono said.

The move by Tokyo comes amid a growing crisis in Venezuela, with increasing pressure on the country’s embattled leader Maduro and the army.

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On Monday, US President Donald Trump urged the Venezuelan military to back Guaido or “lose everything”.

The US has called for Maduro to step aside, backing Guaido who has denounced the Venezuelan president’s re-election last year as fraudulent.

The opposition figure declared himself interim president in January, and has now been recognised by around 50 countries.

He is locked in a standoff with Maduro over a US plan to send aid to Venezuela, which is in the grip of a humanitarian crisis due to shortages of food and medicine exacerbated by hyperinflation.

Guaido plans to sign up a million volunteers to bring the aid into the country, despite roadblocks set up by Maduro’s government, which says it will receive 300 tonnes of aid from Russia this week.