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After challenge to Maduro’s legitimacy, what’s next for Venezuela?

Amidst huge crowds of supporters in Caracas, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó proclaimed himself interim president until new elections can be held. The Trump administration was quick to back Guaidó, and the country's nominal president, Nicolás Maduro, broke off U.S. relations as a result. Nick Schifrin reports on why this challenge may represent a "perfect storm" Maduro can't withstand.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro faces the most direct challenge to his nearly-six years in power.

    Today, as Nick Schifrin reports, the U.S. and more than a half-a-dozen other countries recognized Juan Guaido, currently the head of Venezuela's National Assembly, as the country's legitimate president.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    On a stage in downtown Caracas, in front of a crowd of thousands, 35-year-old Juan Guaido raised his right hand and administered his own oath of office.

  • Juan Guaido:

    I swear to formally assume the powers of the national executive as the president in charge of Venezuela.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Around the capital and country today, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of Venezuelans rallied in support of Guaido and called for a change in government.

  • Hilda Gonzales:

    That is why we are here, to support our National Assembly, the only legitimate power for the 14 million Venezuelans.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Nuns demanded freedom, and other protesters demanded President Nicolas Maduro step down.

  • Maria Contreras:

    Your time is up, and your Cabinet's. Understand this: Venezuela has outgrown you.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Venezuelans have protested before, but this time the usually fractured opposition has a consensus leader. Until recently, Guaido was relatively unknown. But he has crisscrossed the country speaking against Maduro, asking for support from the international community, and Venezuela's powerful military.

  • Juan Guaido:

    We are not asking you to mount a coup, or to shoot. On the contrary, we are asking you not to shoot at us, and defend together with us the right of our people to be heard.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    His calls have been heard. On Monday, National Guardsmen posted cell phone videos declaring Maduro illegitimate and calling for protests.

  • Mike Pence:

    We say to all the good people of Venezuela, estamos con ustedes.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yesterday, Vice President Pence promised the U.S. would be with the protesters.

    And today, in a statement, President Trump endorsed Guaido as interim president and said: "The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law."

  • Moises Rendon:

    This is one of the most historic days for Venezuelan modern history.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Moises Rendon is an associate director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He says Guaido's announcement today, and President Trump's endorsement, allows the U.S. to redirect payments for Venezuelan oil, which accounts for 90 percent of Venezuela's GDP.

  • Moises Rendon:

    Every single asset, every single bank account, every single contract, all the management of this republic's assets will be transferred to the National Assembly and to Juan Guaido.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But Maduro is pushing back. Today, he cut off diplomatic relations with the U.S., and gave U.S. diplomats 72 hours to leave the country.

  • Nicolas Maduro:

    Do not trust the gringo empire. The gringos do not have friends, nor are they loyal to anyone. The gringos have interests, Venezuelan oil, Venezuelan gas, Venezuelan gold. But, to that empire, we say that oil, that gas, that gold is not yours.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    It was just two weeks ago Maduro was inaugurated and swore to build what he called 21st century socialism. But he has built an economic catastrophe.

    Venezuela used to be Latin America's wealthiest country. But Caracas residents have demanded access to a supermarket, even if the shelves were empty because of a shortage of food. Medical patients have protested a shortage of medicine. And children play in the dark because of a shortage of power.

    It's been an economic freefall, the product of falling oil prices and failed economic policies. Bills have became so worthless, women turned them into art. Inflation could hit 10 million percent. All of it sparked the region's largest ever exodus. More than 3.5 million Venezuelans have fled their homes and created a humanitarian crisis that increased regional criminality.

  • Moises Rendon:

    It represents a humanitarian and a security crisis the region that is impacting not only neighboring countries, but like the U.S. as well.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The U.S. has imposed sanctions on Maduro and his leadership. U.S. officials say, depending on Maduro's response today, they could impose an oil export embargo that would likely collapse the state.

    Instead, U.S. officials hope Maduro heeds the protests, and the military withdraws its support. Maduro will fight, but he faces a perfect storm of economic pressure, international condemnation, a popular opponent, and the mobilization of his own people.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

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