Venezuela remains in a state of crisis as opposition forces—with the backing of the United States—attempt to unseat the government of Nicolás Maduro. On Thursday, Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López said the military continues to stand by Maduro. His remarks came one day after President Trump announced that the U.S. would recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s new leader. Guaidó, the new head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, declared himself president on Wednesday during a large opposition protest. Meanwhile, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has ordered the U.S. to remove all of its diplomats from Venezuela, but Washington is ignoring the request, claiming Maduro no longer has authority to take such action. We speak to two long-term observers of Venezuelan politics: Venezuelan-born NYU professor Alejandro Velasco and Steve Ellner, who lives in Venezuela, where he taught for several decades.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Venezuela remains in a state of crisis as opposition forces—with the backing of the United States—attempt to unseat the government of President Nicolás Maduro. On Thursday, Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López said the military continues to stand by Maduro.
VLADIMIR PADRINO LÓPEZ: [translated] I alert the people of Venezuela that a coup is being carried out against our institutions, against our democracy, against our constitution, against our President Nicolás Maduro—the legitimate president of Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
AMY GOODMAN: The Venezuelan Defense Minister’s comment came one day after President Trump announced the U.S. would recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s new president. Guaidó, the new head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, declared himself president on Wednesday during a large opposition protest.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pledged to send $20 million to the Venezuelan opposition in the form of humanitarian aid to address the shortages of food and medicine, caused in part by harsh U.S. sanctions. Pompeo made the announcement while speaking at the OAS, the Organization of American States.
SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: The time for debate is done. The regime of former President Nicolás Maduro is illegitimate. His regime is morally bankrupt. It’s economically incompetent. And it is profoundly corrupt. It is undemocratic to the core. I repeat: The regime of former President Nicolás Maduro is illegitimate. We therefore consider all of its declarations and actions illegitimate and invalid.
AMY GOODMAN: Secretary of State Pompeo’s speech was interrupted by CodePink founder Medea Benjamin, who will join us later in the broadcast.
In other developments, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has ordered the U.S. to remove all of its diplomats from Venezuela, but Washington is ignoring the request, claiming Maduro no longer has authority to take such action. While the U.S. Embassy in Caracas is staying open, the State Department has ordered non-essential diplomats and embassy staff to leave Venezuela. Meanwhile, Maduro has ordered all of Venezuela’s diplomatic staff in the United States to return home.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The crisis is happening just weeks after Maduro was sworn in to a second 6-year term following his victory in an election last May that was boycotted by several of the opposition groups. The international community remains split on the situation in Venezuela. On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres urged all actors to, quote, “lower tensions and pursue every effort to prevent violence and avoid any escalation.” Mexico and Uruguay have urged all sides to hold negotiations. On Thursday, Mexico’s new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, spoke out against foreign intervention in Venezuela.
PRESIDENT ANDRÉS MANUEL LÓPEZ OBRADOR: [translated] We should conduct foreign relations with the principles of nonintervention, of the self-determination of peoples, of peaceful solutions to disputes.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But many other countries in the hemisphere have joined with the United States in supporting the attempted coup. This includes Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Argentina and Chile. Here in the United States, the leaders of the Democratic Party have also largely supported Trump’s actions.
Meanwhile, U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet is warning the situation, quote, “may rapidly spiral out of control with catastrophic consequences.” She also called for an independent investigation into recent violence. At least 26 people have died since anti-Maduro protests broke out earlier this week.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by two guests. Alejandro Velasco is associate professor at New York University, where he’s a historian of modern Latin America. He’s executive editor for NACLA Report on the Americas and the author of the book Barrio Rising: Urban Popular Politics and the Making of Modern Venezuela. Velasco was born and raised in Venezuela. He just returned from Venezuela Tuesday. He’s joining us from Chicopee, Massachusetts.
And in Washington, Steve Ellner is with us, former professor at the Universidad de Oriente in Venezuela, where he taught from 1977 until he retired in 2002, currently associate managing editor of the journal Latin American Perspectives. He is editor of Latin America’s Radical Left and the forthcoming book The Pink Tide Experiences: Breakthroughs and Shortcomings in Twenty-First Century Latin America. Ellner lives in Venezuela but is currently visiting the United States.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Alejandro Velasco, let’s begin with you. Your assessment of what’s taken place so far? Are we seeing a coup in the making?
ALEJANDRO VELASCO: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. There’s no question, on the other hand, that the Maduro government lacks significant amount of popular support and, to a significant extent, also legal legitimacy. And as you just mentioned, I returned from a couple of weeks there just on Tuesday, and the level of discontent, especially among popular sectors that had previously strongly supported Maduro and, certainly, before him, Chávez, is palpable. And it has to do with prices. It has to do with public services. However, that does not translate—and it hasn’t in the past, and it’s unclear whether it does now—to support for the opposition, which, on its own terms, has advanced—certainly with these last few moves, has advanced an agenda that is plunging Venezuela into a tremendous degree of political and social uncertainty.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I’d like to ask Steve Ellner, this whole issue of the economic situation in Venezuela, to what degree the United States government has played a role. Most people are not aware of how the sanctions have had an impact on Venezuela, specifically, for instance, Citgo, the huge American-based subsidiary of the Venezuelan oil industry, which has not been allowed to remit back any of the money that it’s making here in the United States back to Venezuela. Could you talk about those sanctions and the impact on the economy there?
STEVE ELLNER: Certainly, Juan. The sanction that prohibits Citgo from remitting profits to Venezuela is a very important measure. It means that the Venezuelan government is being deprived of approximately $1 billion a year. But in addition to that, the sanctions also stipulate that Venezuela practically cannot refinance its foreign debt, which is something logical that any country facing a difficult economic situation would do. The sanctions prohibit U.S. financial institutions from having any transaction, any interaction with the Venezuelan government and the Venezuelan state oil company, PDVSA.
But, Juan, in addition to that, there is a major impact in terms of discouraging commercial and financial interests throughout the world from any kind of transaction with Venezuela. There is a list of 70—approximately 70 Venezuelan officials who are being sanctioned. And that translates into a situation in which the U.S. government, and specifically Steven Mnuchin, the secretary of the treasury, has undertaken different investigations, workshops with representatives of Japan, Europe, Latin America, in order to find out where the shell companies are. In other words, he has created a situation in which commercial interests throughout the world are afraid to have anything to do with Venezuela. That amounts to virtually a block—an economic blockade.