Venezuela is enduring both economic meltdown and political crisis. A year ago, opposition head Juan Guaido said President Nicolas Maduro was illegitimate and that he himself was the country’s rightful leader. But although Guaido won support from nearly 60 countries around the world, including the U.S., Maduro remains in power. Special correspondent Marcia Biggs sits down with Guaido in Caracas.
And now to Venezuela, a nation suffering through both economic meltdown and political crisis.
One year ago, opposition leader Juan pronounced President Nicolas Maduro illegitimate, and said that he was the rightful president. Guaido won the support of nearly 60 countries around the world, including the U.S., but President Maduro remains in power.
With support from the Pulitzer Center, special correspondent Marcia Biggs sat down with opposition leader Guaido in Caracas.
Members of Parliament aligned with opposition leader Juan Guaido hadn't even reached Parliament on Wednesday, when their convoy was attacked by supporters of President Nicolas Maduro.
Guaido lashed out at what he said was a naked power grab and campaign of intimidation by Maduro.
Juan Guaido (through translator):
They are announcing the military takeover of the palace. And right here, I am denouncing it to the world.
They are using military and paramilitary groups armed by the dictatorship, civilian groups armed by the dictatorship to violently attack the federal palace.
In Caracas on Tuesday, Maduro arrived at the National Assembly Palace to deliver his state of the union address before his supporters. He criticized Guaido as a puppet of the U.S. and called for new legislative elections this year.
President Nicolas Maduro (through translator):
The people should decide on this conflict with their votes, with their conscience, with their political will, parliamentary elections in 2020.
The conflict Maduro is referring to, who actually controls Parliament. Last week, National Guard troops, under government order, blocked Guaido and his supporters from entering the National Assembly for a leadership vote.
Inside, Maduro supporters elected their own speaker, an opposition member willing to negotiate with Maduro. But two days later, Guaido returned, broke through the gauntlet, and was sworn in as speaker by his supporters, leaving the Venezuelan people to wonder which of these dueling parliaments and leaders is actually in power.
Meanwhile, the country remains crippled, a failing economy, soaring food prices, and a gasoline shortage, all made worse by U.S. sanctions. And many of this country's most vulnerable citizens left on their own.
I met Guaido at his office in Caracas yesterday to discuss all of this.
Juan Guaido, thank you so much for sitting down with us.
I want to start with the question that's on everybody's mind. What is going on in the National Assembly in Venezuela?
As you may know, Venezuela today suffers from a dictatorship, a dictatorship that incarcerates people, that persecutes, that has generated the most severe humanitarian crisis in the region, seven million Venezuelans in a complex humanitarian emergency, as determined by the U.N., 5.5 million migrants on the continent, mainly in South America, only surpassed by Syria in terms of the refugee crises around the world.
That is what we Venezuelans are facing today. The national Parliament has become a beacon of resistance, of democratic struggle, of defense of the rights of Venezuelans. And it has not been exempted from the persecution by the regime.
And that is why the dictatorship is attacking us the way they do. So, that is our great struggle, which I lead from the national Parliament. I must say that I enjoy remarkable international recognition and support. And that, in short, is what is happening today in our National Assembly.
OK, but, in the last two weeks, there have been an incredible series of events, where now you have essentially two bodies of Parliament.
Each one believes that it is the legitimate National Assembly.
There is only one Parliament in Venezuela.
What we are experiencing at the moment is a brutal repression and a militarization of our Parliament, the use of armed paramilitaries, called colectivos, in Venezuela, and a fierce and brave defense by our parliamentarians.
Despite the dictatorship's attempts to seduce them, including the use of blackmail, the use of money from Venezuelan funds, they have not even managed to gain an artificial majority, because the world continues to recognize us, and, more importantly, the Venezuelan people.
And, by the way, there are not two countries either. There are not two countries fighting against each other or polarized. Instead, 90 percent of the county is in favor of a change.
OK, who is running the country?
Juan Guaido (through translator):
That answer is not easy either. Why? Because, today, it is the dictatorship. Today, it is the criminality.
Today, it is the irregular groups on the border that exercise control of the country. There is a generalized anarchy in the country. Today, the common and prevailing situation is that of hunger, of migration. It is a context of drug trafficking proliferating in Venezuela, and we are fighting precisely to bring order back, to recover normality, to reestablish the rule of law, so that human rights can be respected in Venezuela.
It's been a year since you declared yourself president. Maduro remains in power.
Parliament is now split. And, meanwhile, as you described a very bleak picture of this country, a crisis of hyperinflation, hunger and failing medical system, tell me, how do you move forward? What is your strategy?
Several things to clarify.
The first thing is that I didn't declare myself president. Article 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution states that the president of the Parliament is the acting president, since a presidential election wasn't held, and this is what happened in Venezuela in 2018.
Today, I am the acting president of Venezuela, while a presidential election is duly organized. Also, I must reiterate my previous answer. Our Parliament is not split. Our Parliament maintains a solid majority, which the world recognizes, and the dictatorship tried to tear it apart, resorting to bribery, and it didn't succeed, and then decided to use military and paramilitary groups, and didn't succeed there either.
In spite of that, at the risk of our integrity and our lives, we managed to assert the rights of Venezuelans, not just the majority of the parliamentarians who cast their vote that day. In order to go to work, I had to overcome gunfire, jump over walls, and confront paramilitaries.
In spite of all that, there is a Parliament that is recognized by Venezuelans and by the world, even though the dictatorship is hijacking power.
How have they kept power? Well, because the dictatorship still has part of the support of those who hijacked the weapons of the republic. And I think that that day that we managed to enter Parliament, where we all pushed open a door that was held by a few soldiers, is the metaphor for what is happening in Venezuela.
Last year, the U.S. government imposed new sanctions on Venezuela's oil industry, the government's largest source of revenue, in order to pressure Maduro.
Are you in favor of these sanctions?
Venezuelan oil production has been falling for nine years as a result of corruption, a product of bad management of the industry.
It has nothing to do with the imposition of sanctions. Last year, production remained at approximately 700,000 barrels throughout the year, and has not changed. That is to say, it has nothing to do with the sanctions. And the dictatorship continues to sell that oil that they manage to extract.
So, continuing with the sanctions implemented, we must seek even more efficient mechanisms of pressuring this type of totalitarian regime.
Would you want a U.S. military intervention?
I want a solution. I want an urgent solution for my country.
I want to stop seeing children suffering in Venezuela. I want to stop seeing mothers saying goodbye to their children at the airport, or worse, in the cemetery, and, with them, the hope of justice, because they were either executed or robbed.
Venezuela today is the most violent country in the world. Caracas is the most violent capital of the world, taking into account the rate of murders per 100,000 inhabitants.
So, it is my responsibility to evaluate all the options to end this tragedy, to end once and for all this suffering of our people. And, of course, we must have all options on the table.
We have already seen so much political violence, and your supporters saw it this week. Are you worried about a civil war?
I have no doubt that's what the dictatorship wants.
Now, we are not in favor, let's say, of pitting people against people. We are determined to put an end to this situation in the best possible way, as I was just saying a few moments ago, evaluating all the options.
But, today, the dictatorship has a monopoly on weapons. In any case, what we could see is genocide, a very severe genocide. And why do I say very severe? Because the national special police force has already illegally massacred 18,000 Venezuelans in three years.
That was also raised by the U.N., the human rights report. They want to shoot us. They are going to do it, as they did a few days ago, to prevent us from entering Parliament.
And that is why I was commenting minutes ago, we must evaluate all the options to put an end to this tragedy, that Venezuelans, South Americans, and all the inhabitants of the continent are suffering, in short.
Juan Guaido, thank you so much for speaking with us.
No, thank you.
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