Venezuela’s Guaido calls for new rally against Maduro on 20th anniversary of Chavism
Major European countries have set a weekend deadline for Maduro to call such elections or they will join the United States in recognising Guaido, the speaker of the national assembly, as Venezuela’s interim president.
“We must all take to the streets of Venezuela and the world with a clear goal: to accompany the ultimatum given by members of the European Union,” Guaido said Thursday.
“We are going to stage the biggest march in the history of Venezuela and our continent,” he added.
He called the rally to coincide with one convened by government supporters to mark the 20th anniversary of the socialist movement founded by the late Hugo Chavez.
Guaido said elite security forces went to his home to threaten his family, blaming the government of Maduro as international support grew for his bid to oust the much-criticised leader.
The move heightened fears for the security of 35-year-old Guaido, who declared himself acting president last week in a bold challenge to Maduro’s authority.
The police’s special action force, FAES, went to his home to interview his wife Fabiana Rosales, Guaido said during a speech at Caracas university.
“At this moment the dictatorship believes that it will intimidate us,” Guaido said, his wife at his side.
Opposition leaders jailed
Several opposition leaders have been jailed in recent years as Maduro cracked down on growing dissent in the Latin American country, where resistance has escalated with Guaido’s spectacular self-proclamation.
Previously unknown to the public at large, he has become the standard bearer of the opposition to Maduro, whether on the streets or on social networks.
Deprived almost entirely of coverage on mainstream media, Guaido has deftly used the social networks to woo support, but even that avenue is increasingly being cut off, and there is an explicit ban against talking about him.
The dramatic turn against Maduro’s leftist regime culminated quickly, but it came after weeks of behind-the-scenes diplomacy including a hushed meeting in Washington with Guaido, who was quickly recognised by Washington as Venezuela’s president.
While marshalling international support, Guaido is seeking to maintain street pressure against Maduro.
Venezuela’s Supreme Court — dominated by regime loyalists — has frozen his assets and ordered him not to leave the country.
EU lawmakers’ support
On Thursday, lawmakers at the European Parliament voted to accept Guaido as “legitimate interim president of the country” – and urged the European Union to follow suit.
Four major European powers – Britain, France, Germany and Spain – have said they would do so if Maduro fails to call presidential elections by the weekend.
The US on Thursday urged all European countries to recognise Guaido, but Maduro has told the “imperialists” to wait until 2025 for new elections.
Guaido was at the main Caracas university to present his “rescue plan” for a country in economic meltdown.
“We are going to address the humanitarian emergency, stop inflation in its tracks, reactivate the oil industry and move towards the restoration of access to public goods and services,” he said to cheers.
Part of the plan unveiled by the opposition leader and his economic advisor Jose Guerra is to end exchange controls in force since 2003 and renegotiate Venezuela’s estimated $150 billion debt.
Guaido courts Maduro’s supporters Russia, China
On Thursday, Guaido told Reuters news agency that he had sent communications to both China and Russia – Venezuela’s top foreign creditors and who support Maduro in the UN Security Council – saying it would be in their best interests to switch the side they back in Venezuela.
“What most suits Russia and China is the country’s stability and a change of government,” Guaido said. “Maduro does not protect Venezuela, he doesn’t protect anyone’s investments, and he is not a good deal for those countries.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, asked if China had been in touch with Guaido, said they were “maintaining close communication with all parties through various means regarding the situation in Venezuela”.
China’s cooperation with Venezuela was based on the principles of equality, mutual benefit and joint development, he told reporters in Beijing.
“We believe that no matter how the situation develops or changes, cooperation between China and Venezuela will not be damaged.”
A former union leader, bus driver and foreign minister, the 56-year-old Maduro, who first took office in 2013, has faced waves of protests in recent years as he presided over hyperinflation and chronic food shortages.
Some 3 million Venezuelans have left the country.
With Venezuela in deep economic crisis, the geopolitical tussling has also drawn in Europe and Latin American nations as well as parts of the Middle East.
The US government this week warned Russia and other countries from “last-minute looting” of oil and gold, after reports that Venezuela was planning to sell gold from its central bank vaults to the United Arab Emirates in coming days in return for euros in cash.
Republican US Senator Marco Rubio sent a tweet to the United Arab Emirates embassy in Washington on Thursday warning that anybody transporting Venezuelan gold would be subject to US sanctions.
The United States is also monitoring trade between its NATO ally Turkey and Venezuela and will take action if it judges any sanctions have been violated, a senior US official said in Istanbul.
Turkey’s president, Tayyip Erdogan, has stood by Maduro, calling him last week to express support.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)