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Protests held around Venezuela, Trump assures Guaido of full support

Venezuelan opposition supporters participate in a protest in Caracas on Jan. 30, 2019, demanding an end to the country's political and economic crisis and showing support for National Assembly President Juan Guaido, who proclaimed himself interim president of the country on Jan. 23. EFE-EPA/ Cristian Hernandez

Venezuelan opposition supporters participate in a protest in Caracas on Jan. 30, 2019, demanding an end to the country’s political and economic crisis and showing support for National Assembly President Juan Guaido, who proclaimed himself interim president of the country on Jan. 23. EFE-EPA/ Cristian Hernandez

EFE

The head of the opposition-majority Parliament, Juan Guaido, who proclaimed himself interim president last week, said Wednesday that more than 5,000 brief protests were staged around Venezuela “to reject the crisis” the country is facing and to demand an end to the what they call the “usurpation” of power by President Nicolas Maduro .

“They protested at more than 5,000 places on the national level not only to reject the crisis we’re experiencing throughout Venezuela, not only because it’s going badly for us as citizens, but for the future,” Guaido told reporters during one of the demonstrations in Caracas.

The interim president provided no details about the number of people participating in the protests, which were staged around the country between noon and 2 pm.

The multi-location demonstration was called for on Sunday by Guaido, who asked opposition supporters to act peacefully and not to block roadways.

In the capital’s downtown, where many poorer people live, several hundred people gathered near the J.M. De los Rios Hospital, which treats children and teens, chanting slogans against Maduro and displaying signs denouncing the “humanitarian crisis” they say is besetting the country.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump reiterated his full backing for Guaido as Venezuela’s interim head of state.

Guaido, the speaker of Venezuela’s National Assembly (unicameral legislature), proclaimed himself acting president on Jan. 23, dismissing the leftist Maduro, Venezuela’s head of state since 2013, as an usurper.

“I appreciate the phone call from the president of the United States, Donald Trump, who reiterated his complete support for our democratic work, commitment to humanitarian aid and his administration’s recognition for our (interim) presidency,” Guaido wrote on Twitter.

Since Guaido told a group of supporters last week that he was assuming the powers of the presidency, some 30 countries have formally recognized him as acting head of state, including the United States, Canada, Brazil and Colombia.

In Mexico, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Wednesday rejected the proposal of visiting Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to participate in an international contact group on the Venezuelan crisis.

In an appearance before the media by the two leaders after their bilateral meeting, Lopez Obrador insisted that “dialogue is the first step, things cannot be imposed, first the parties have to begin a dialogue” in Venezuela.

“We don’t want foreigners to intervene in issues that are the responsibility of Mexicans, and so we must also be very cautious not to intervene. So that others don’t intervene,” the Mexican leader said.

Also on Wednesday, Uruguay and Mexico, both countries that decided to take a neutral position vis-a-vis the crisis in Venezuela, convened for Feb. 7 an international conference given the tension created after Venezuelan National Assembly president Juan Guaido proclaimed himself interim president to replace elected President Nicolas Maduro.

Last Saturday, the governments of Spain, France, Germany and the United Kingdom gave Maduro eight days to call new elections saying that if he does not do so they will recognize Guaido, an ultimatum to which The Netherlands and Portugal later adhered.

The Venezuelan opposition is pursuing a multi-faceted pressure campaign to urge Maduro to step down as the country’s elected president, after he was sworn in just under three weeks ago for a second six-year term after winning an election last May that many governments around the world have deemed to be fraudulent.

Meanwhile, Colombian photojournalist Leonardo Muñoz, working for Spain’s international news agency EFE, went missing on Wednesday in Caracas along with his Venezuelan driver.

Muñoz was in Caracas on assignment for EFE to cover the Venezuelan crisis and was being driven around the city on a motorscooter by Jose Salas.

Muñoz arrived in Caracas on Jan. 24 along with two colleagues from Bogota and went through the corresponding immigration and travel procedures to be allowed to carry out his work in Venezuela.

His team had registered with the authorities at Maiquetia Simon Bolivar International Airport, which serves Caracas, and it was there that they declared that they intended to pursue journalistic work in Venezuela.

Salas and Muñoz left early Wednesday morning to cover protest activities in eastern Caracas and the last time they were in contact with their colleagues was about 11 am.

The situation has been reported to Venezuelan authorities but so far no they have not provided any information on the matter.

According to the National Press Workers Union of Venezuela (SNTP), the Military Counterintelligence Directorate (DGCIM) “could be responsible for the arrests of other reporters, including (Muñoz).”

Away from the hubbub of protests and political maneuvering, daily life in Caracas continues, but surviving can be a struggle in a country beset by throughgoing crisis - a country where daily life changes with each new dawn and, just like a teenager learning to drive, one must learn anew each day how to both fight and navigate the world.

The first hurdle to overcome in this learning process is knowing how to pay for things when paper money has disappeared after centuries of use. This is not the result of technological advancement - it’s much simpler than that: the hyperinflation that ranges between 3 and 5 percent each day has made the bills not even worth the paper they’re printed on.

You can’t be guaranteed of anything with the volatile exchange rate, the hyperinflation and its many ramifications all working to make it quite a gamble when you head out to run an errand with a fistful of currency and don’t even know whether you’ll be able to pay for the bus to get home.

“The only thing you can do is watch television and the only thing you see there is politics because there’s nothing else to watch, they don’t show anything new,” says Kendra Mendoza.

A large part of the blame is due to the scarcity - or even the complete lack - of Internet services, around which people elsewhere in the 21st century world focus a significant portion of their leisure time.

Except for the privileged few driving their luxury cars and spending extravagantly, truly enjoying leisure time is a thing of the past for most.

Restaurants have removed the prices from their menus: they can’t guarantee that the cost will remain the same between the time you order and when you request the check.


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