CARACAS, Venezuela — The world is increasingly taking sides on who should be the rightful leader of Venezuela.
On one side is President Nicolás Maduro, whose socialist government is seen as increasingly corrupt, inept and repressive. On the other is the opposition led by Juan Guaidó, the 35-year-old National Assembly leader who declared himself interim president last month during a mass demonstration against the government. At least seven European countries threw their weight behind Mr. Guaidó on Monday, raising pressure on Mr. Maduro.
The crisis, years in the making, has left many of Venezuela’s roughly 31 million people destitute and hungry, sent more than two million people into neighboring countries as refugees and created a new source of instability in Latin America. The outcome of the struggle will determine not only who controls Venezuela’s government but also its proven oil reserves, which by some estimates are the world’s largest.
Here are the basics on who is with Mr. Maduro, who has turned against him — and what to expect in the next turbulent weeks:
Mr. Maduro still has powerful backers at home and abroad.
Russia in particular has propped up Mr. Maduro’s government with billions of dollars in loans, and Cuba has provided intelligence support. While Venezuela’s poorest people may be suffering the most as the economy stagnates and institutions crumble, many remain loyal to Mr. Maduro as the heir to Hugo Chávez, the longtime socialist leader who commanded an enormous following. And one of Mr. Maduro’s firmest pillars of support, the military, remains officially on his side — although critics say cracks are showing.
More countries, led by the United States, are calling Mr. Maduro illegitimate.
They have pointed to his re-election last year — a vote widely regarded as fraudulent — in justifying the switch to his opponent. They have embraced Mr. Guaidó, who declared on Jan. 23 that he was interim president and promised to call new elections.
The United States led the shift to immediately recognize Mr. Guaidó, joined by Canada, Australia and 12 countries in Latin America, including Brazil, the biggest. On Monday they were joined by Austria, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Spain and Sweden, the latest countries in Europe to support Mr. Guaidó.
Canada, which hosted on Monday a meeting of the Lima Group, a regional bloc formed to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in Venezuela, offered $40.4 million to help its population.
The Trump administration has amplified the pressure on Mr. Maduro by imposing sanctions on his government, including new restrictions on its access to revenue from Venezuelan oil sales to the United States — a critical customer.
Mr. Maduro has called himself the victim of an American-backed attempt to topple him and has asserted that he remains popular. But signs are increasing that he has alienated a majority of Venezuelans. Antigovernment demonstrations have increased in size and scope as food, medicine and fuel have grown scarcer and basic government services have collapsed.
Where is China on this issue?
China is an increasingly influential investor in Venezuela, taking 240,000 barrels of oil a day from the country, much of it designated as debt repayment. While China’s support is important for Mr. Maduro’s ability to remain in power, it has been conspicuously low-key regarding his struggle with Mr. Guaidó. When asked about China’s policy regarding Venezuela, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, said “China is committed to the principle of noninterference in other countries’ internal affairs.”
The relative neutrality of China, at least compared with Russia, may reflect China’s concern that it needs to remain open to all possibilities in Venezuela. If Mr. Guaidó were to prevail, China would need to cultivate a relationship with him that preserves its economic interests.
What are the United Nations and other large multinational organizations saying?
The global split over Venezuela has left the leader of the 193-member United Nations, António Guterres, in an awkward position. He told reporters on Monday that the United Nations continues to offer its “good offices to the parties to be able at their request to help find a political solution,” but would not participate in any other group’s initiatives to resolve the crisis.
Among other multinational institutions, the Organization of American States was among Mr. Guaidó’s first backers — even though not all of its 35 members agreed. The Inter-American Development Bank, an important source of financing in Latin America, also has recognized him as interim president.
The International Monetary Fund has avoided taking sides, saying it will follow the position of its member states. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, of which Venezuela was a founding member, has said nothing.
Where is this crisis heading?
It is difficult to know. But in the next few days and weeks, the impact of the United States’ sanctions will begin to ripple through the country. Fuel shortages are expected to start in the countryside and eventually reach the capital, Caracas, further constricting the country’s economy by interfering with people’s ability to work and making food and medicine even harder to obtain.
Mr. Guaidó, calling the situation an emergency, has promised to work with foreign backers and bring international aid into Venezuela. This action would be in direct defiance of Mr. Maduro, who has said the country does not need the help — and could lead to possibly violent confrontations.
Orignially published in NYT.