U.S. President Donald Trump made headlines again last week – this time, over a political crisis unfolding in Latin America. On Jan. 23, the White House officially recognized Juan Guaido, the president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, as that country’s interim president. Trump added that protests against Nicolas Maduro, who won the elections in May 2018 and took the oath of office as president just two weeks ago, were a demand for “freedom and the rule of law.”
It is no secret that Washington has been unhappy with Venezuela’s overall direction since Hugo Chavez came to power in 1999. Trump himself adopted a hawkish position on Maduro and even talked about potentially occupying the country. As such, it was hardly surprising that the United States and Latin American nations, with the notable exception of Mexico and Bolivia, supported Guaido, who declared himself president on Jan. 23.
After all, senior members of the Trump administration, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Adviser John Bolton and Sen. Marco Rubio had been tweeting that they recognized the Venezuelan opposition leader as the country’s legitimate ruler.
Washington’s anti-Maduro stance clearly paves the way to civil war and a military coup in Venezuela. Guaido, the opposition leader, was quick to get the message and announce that he would pardon military commanders if they attempted to overthrow the elected president by force. It was also noteworthy that Bolton pledged to ensure that Venezuela’s oil revenue would flow to Guaido rather than Maduro, provided that oil accounts for most of the country’s revenue and Venezuela has been experiencing a very serious economic crisis. Under the circumstances, losing oil revenue could put the Maduro administration, which is already fighting an uphill battle against hyperinflation, in a difficult position. Unlike the 2017 protests, the current uprising receives some support from Maduro’s lower-income base. Although the government rejoiced at statements of support from Turkey, Russia, China, Mexico and Greece, the economic sanctions, at which U.S. officials hinted last week, could potentially start a civil war in Venezuela.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was the first foreign leader to oppose the coup in Venezuela and this surprised hardly anyone. Erdoğan’s call on Maduro to “stand tall” reflected a sense of solidarity, since the Venezuelan leader expressed solidarity with Turkey during the July 15, 2016 coup attempt. At the same time, the Turkish leader stressed the importance of the ballot box, “Maduro won an election. Coming from someone who believes in democracy, Trump’s statement was shocking to me.”