Venezuela’s political crisis: How did we get here?

Venezuela’s Leadership Crisis protest / Photo: ZUMA Press / (MGN)
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(Gray News) – Government and opposition forces are struggling for political power in Venezuela, a country hamstrung by economic chaos and widespread shortages.

Millions can’t afford the basics in life, and the violence is spreading to the borders where aid shipments have been blocked.

As the crisis in the South American nation deepens, here are some things you’ll need to know about Venezuela’s political situation.

Who’s president?

It seems like a simple question, but two men have staked a claim.

President Nicolas Maduro was sworn in to a second six-year term in office in early January.

Just a couple of weeks later, opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself acting president, directly challenging Maduro.

As you might expect, Maduro is in no mood to give up the gig.

Why is there a dispute?

Maduro was first elected to office in 2013 after the death of Hugo Chavez. It was a narrow victory, less than 2 percentage points.

The Venezuelan economy turned south during his first term and his re-election bid last year turned controversial.

Many opposition candidates were barred from running, while others were jailed or fled their homeland.

When Maduro won the ballot, the nation’s opposition-controlled National Assembly refused to recognize the election results, calling the election unfair and the presidency vacant.

Under Venezuela’s constitution, the head of the National Assembly takes over as acting president in such cases.

That’s why Guaido declared himself acting president in January. He’s now in exile in neighboring Colombia.

How much power does Guaido have?

In reality, very little.

But Guaido’s claim to power has been recognized by the United States and 50 other governments who say Maduro's re-election last year was illegitimate.

For its part, China has called on ruling and opposition parties to work things out and that it opposes "intervention by external forces in the internal affairs of Venezuela."

Up to this point, Venezuelan security forces have remained largely loyal to Maduro through pay raises and key political appointments.

What’s the economy like?

In simple terms, it’s a mess.

Inflation is out of control. The International Monetary Fund estimates prices will increase by 10 million percent in 2019.

At the end of 2018, prices were doubling every 19 days. There are shortages in power, food and medicine.

Average folks are unhappy, which will erode Maduro’s support.

What is the U.S. doing?

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have repeatedly said, "all options are on the table.”

In addition to the White House verbally backing the opposition leader, the Trump administration has imposed several rounds of sanctions on the Maduro regime and its allies and offered financial assistance to Guaido for humanitarian aid.

Recent U.S.-backed efforts to deliver humanitarian aid across the border from Colombia ended in violence, the Associated Press reported.

Forces loyal to Maduro fired tear gas and buckshot on activists accompanying the supplies and set the material on fire.

Four people have been reported killed and at least 300 wounded, although only a few were hospitalized.

Even with the setback, the U.S. and regional allies continue to stockpile emergency food and medical kits on Venezuela’s borders, sending 400 tons of food and medicine to Colombia and Brazil.

Pence said in a speech in Colombia on Monday the U.S. would continue to search for places to pre-position aid for eventual delivery to Venezuela.

He also announced $56 million in new assistance to countries in the region helping to absorb an exodus of more than 3 million Venezuelans who have fled in recent years.

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