Merida, January 14, 2019 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The president of Venezuela’s National Assembly (AN), Juan Guaido, has been released only a short time after being “irregularly” detained by Bolivarian Intelligence Agency (SEBIN) officers Sunday.
The legislator from the hard-right Popular Will party, who controversially proclaimed himself “interim president” on Friday, was apprehended on the Caracas-Guaira highway, provoking outcry among his supporters. Guaido was released a few hours later and was able to attend a political event he had scheduled in Vargas State.
Government spokespeople joined Guaido’s followers in condemning the brief detention, suggesting that it had occurred as a result of the “irregular and unilateral” actions of SEBIN Commissioner Ildemaro Jose Mucura and three other officers who, it is claimed, acted “on the margins of the Constitution and the law.” All four officers have been arrested and suspended from service.
According to Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez, Mucura was already the subject of an internal investigation into alleged “conspirationational links with the Venezuelan extreme right.” Rodriguez went on to accuse the officers of carrying out the arrest as part of a “false positive” media spectacle to allegedly spur on those who do not recognise the constitutional mandate of President Nicolas Maduro, which began January 10 and will last until 2025.
Speaking at the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) Monday, Maduro indicated that he had personally countermanded the arrest and secured Guaido’s release.
“As I soon as I was made aware of the arrest of opposition leader Juan Guaido, I ordered his release and the dismissal of those responsible; that's how I will act against anyone corrupt or who breaks their oath,” the head of state declared.
Following the incident, Guaido claimed to be “unafraid” and blamed the day’s events on a “rupture in the [SEBIN’s] chain of command.”
Guaido was elected AN president on January 5 and as an AN deputy has parliamentary immunity. Just six days after assuming the leadership of the body, Guaido invoked Article 233 of Venezuela's constitution, claiming an “absolute power vacuum.”
Under Article 233, an “absolute power vacuum” may be declared in the case of the death, resignation, removal of office by the Supreme Court, permanent physical or mental disability, abandonment of the position or a recall vote against the president. In the case of such a vacuum occurring before a president-elect is sworn in on January 10, the president of the AN is to “take charge” of the position, whilst if it were to occur after inauguration and during the first four years of the presidential term, the vice president shall take over.
Guaido issued his proclamation at a sparsely attended public gathering outside the United Nations offices in Caracas one day after Maduro’s inauguration,promising supporters that he would “take charge of the Presidency of the Republic to convene free elections [to] allow a peaceful and democratic transition [to an opposition government] in the country.”
The parliament, which remains “null and void” since being declared in contempt by the Supreme Court in 2016, has refused to recognise the new mandate of Maduro, claiming contrary to reports by international monitoring missions that the May 20 presidential elections were “fraudulent.”
Guaido’s self-declaration, which led to a temporary change in the previously little-known 35-year-old politician’s Wikipedia page, has been dismissed by President Maduro as another attempt to illegally oust his government.
“It's just a show which looks to destabilise us, its a group of young kids who want to play,” he claimed.
ANC President Diosdado Cabello also responded, telling reporters that Guaido is “unknown and without followers.” He also warned that the country should not be surprised if the ANC decides to take “measures” to “sort out” the illegal AN.
Guaido has called for a national protest on January 23, and is yet to indicate if and when he plans to attempt to be extra-officially sworn in as acting president.
US support for “puppet government”
Guaido’s arrest sparked swift condemnation from Washington, which demanded his immediate release and announced its backing of “the petition of the National Assembly” for “an orderly transition to a new government.”
The Trump administration has yet to directly recognize Guaido as “interim president,” though Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has led regional right-leaning allies in the Lima Group in dismissing Maduro’s new government as “illegitimate.” US National Security Advisor John Bolton also joined the chorus, claiming that Guaido’s self-proclamation is “an opportunity for Maduro to step aside.”
The people of Venezuela, via their National Assembly, have given Maduro’s illegitimate regime an opportunity to step aside. It is time for him to heed their call for free, fair, & credible elections in accordance with democratic & constitutional principles https://t.co/kTcvmsxs2G
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) January 12, 2019
Caracas has strongly opposed the Trump administration’s comments, interpreting Washington’s support for Guaido as an attempt to install a “puppet government” through a “coup d’etat”.
Meanwhile, the ultra-right Brazilian government of Jair Bolsonaro has likewise voiced support for Guaido, stating that Venezuela’s presidency “now corresponds to him.”
OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, for his part, went farther than Brasilia and Washington, being the first to recognise Guaido as Venezuela’s new head of state via Twitter.
Aquí mi mensaje sobre el secuestro del Presidente Interino de Venezuela, Diputado Juan Guaidó @jguaido #OEAconVzla pic.twitter.com/ARNaRXdYNQ
— Luis Almagro (@Almagro_OEA2015) January 13, 2019
The AN president also received support from other hardline Venezuelan opposition leaders such as ex-Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma and Vente Venezuela leader Maria Corina Machado. Despite rumours of in-fighting in the opposition ranks, First Justice leader Julio Borges also gave his backing to Guaido, as well as ex-presidential candidate Henri Falcon who called on the opposition to unite, without specifically naming Guaido. Democratic Action leader Henry Allup, in turn, struck a rather different chord, stressing that he would not support any action that was not “constitutional.”
Edited by Lucas Koerner from Philadelphia.