Venezuela is a country driven to poverty by a socialist regime that has increasingly embraced dictatorial polices. The President/dictator of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, has helped drive the nation into a humanitarian and economic crisis that now features an inflation rate of over 1 million percent and citizens starving to the point of resorting to eating dogs, cats, and zoo animals.
In May, Maduro was elected to his second six-year term — an election that many say was illegitimate due to electoral fraud and boycotts by Maduro’s opposition, as TIME reports. Now, the leader of Venezuela's National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, 35, has claimed he is the rightful leader of Venezuela.
Guaidó is a one-term lawmaker in an opposition party that controls the legislature, which is recognized by most countries despite Maduro stripping away the powers of the legislature in 2017. Guaidó has condemned Maduro’s election as rigged and vowed to be the head of state until new and fair elections can be held, citing a constitutional amendment that gives the authority to the head of the legislature to take control when there is a "vacuum of power."
The Venezuelan game of thrones has sparked protests nationwide and has captured the world's attention. Here are five things you need to know:
1. People have died during protests against Maduro.
Tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators have taken to the streets in cities across the country to support Guaidó. "It will fall, this government will fall," protesters chanted, The New York Times reports.
According to CNN, at least 20 Venezuelans have died in violence related to the protests, including some who were shot to death by security forces or pro-government groups.
Guaidó has announced another rally for next week. "The people who think that we are going to fizzle, I think they are not going to be happy," he said. "There are people here in the streets for a long time." If he were to be kidnapped, he urged his supporters to "continue on the path and move forward in a nonviolent manner," the Times reports.
2. The military is on Maduro’s side.
Following Guaidó announcing his right to be the head of state, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López, head of the armed forces, proclaimed his loyalty to Maduro. López insists that the effort to take away Maduro’s authority is a coup, the Times reports. The armed forces are "here to avoid a clash between Venezuelans," he warned. "It’s not a civil war, a war among brothers, that will resolve Venezuelans’ problems." Guaidó's claim to power, he said, is "laughable."
The Supreme Court likewise remains loyal to Maduro, declaring it would not recognize the National Assembly’s motion and making clear it would depose Guaidó, The Washington Post reports.
In a speech Friday reported by CNN, Guaidó called for Venezuela's armed forces to "come to the side of the Venezuelan people." But he says that he is open to dialogue with the other side. "We believe that it's only possible through dialogue and diplomacy to find solutions to conflicts," the opposition leader said. "Not through violence or foreign interventions or coup attempts or war."
3. The U.S. is backing the national assembly president.
On Wednesday, the United States formally recognized Guaidó as the leader of Venezuela. The announcement came after Guaidó deemed himself the head of state. The U.S. declared Maduro’s election illegitimate while offering $20 million in humanitarian aid. Several other countries in the Western Hemisphere have recognized Guaidó's claim, including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Paraguay, Peru, Ecuador, and Guatemala.
In response, Maduro ordered U.S. diplomats to leave the country within 72 hours, but the State Department initially refused, claiming Maduro did not have the authority to make the order. But amid safety concerns, non-emergency U.S. diplomatic staff were instructed to leave the country.
The U.S. "is trying to mount a coup and install a puppet government [to protect] its interests in Venezuela," he alleged, vowing that he won't allow the country "to go back to the gringo intervention of the 20th century."
4. Russia is warning the U.S. not to intervene.
While President Trump has used diplomatic and economic power to put pressure on the Maduro regime, Russia, an ally of Venezuela’s, has announced their opposition to any possible foreign intervention.
President Vladimir V. Putin's spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov condemned external intervention as "very dangerous," asserting, "We consider the attempt to usurp the top power in Venezuela as going against the foundations and principles of the international law."
When asked about possible U.S. military intervention, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov echoed Peskov's statement. "We consider that would be a catastrophic scenario that would shake the foundations of the development model which we see in Latin America," Ryabkov said.
In August 2017, Trump threatened "military action" against Venezuela, calling the country a "mess."
"This is our neighbor," Trump said, as reported by the Miami Herald. "We’re all over the world and we have troops all over the world that are very, very far away. Venezuela is not far away and the people are suffering. And they’re dying."
5. U.S. lawmakers have varying opinions.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has been a vocal opponent of the Maduro regime and on Friday warned, “If something were to happen to [Guaidó] or, God forbid, to our diplomats or members of the national assembly, or the general public who’s peacefully protesting, there is going to be swift and immediate and significant consequences.” In the past, Rubio asserted there was a “very strong argument” for military intervention in Venezuela, Bloomberg reports.
On Friday, freshman Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN) criticized the Trump administration for supporting Maduro’s opposition.
“We cannot hand pick leaders for other countries on behalf of multinational corporate interests,” Omar tweeted. “ The legislature cannot seize power from the President, and Venezuela's Supreme Court has declared their actions unconstitutional.”
In another tweet, Omar added: “We can’t afford to get involved in costly interventions abroad when tens of millions struggle to access housing, healthcare, and clear water right here at home. U.S. meddling abroad always ends badly for us, and the people we claim to be 'liberating.'” Omar concluded, “If we really want to support the Venezuelan people, we can lift the economic sanctions that are inflicting suffering on innocent families, making it harder for them to access food and medicines, and deepening the economic crisis.”