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Power Struggle

Venezuela's top court bars self-declared president Guaidó from leaving country

Leader Nicolas Maduro is seeking to neutralise the American-backed opposition chief.

Venezuela Political Crisis Venezuela's Juan Guaidó AP / PA Images AP / PA Images / PA Images

VENEZUELA’S TOP COURT has barred self-declared president Juan Guaidó from leaving the country, freezing his bank accounts yesterday, as leader Nicolas Maduro seeks to neutralise the American-backed opposition chief.

The 35-year-old head of the National Assembly legislature “is prohibited from leaving the country until the end of the (preliminary) investigation” for having “caused harm to peace in the republic,” high court president Maikel Moreno said. 

The move by the court, which is stacked with Maduro loyalists, comes after the US State Department revealed that Guaido - the National Assembly head and self-proclaimed interim president – has been handed control of Venezuela’s US bank accounts.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed off on the order last week, which was then followed on Monday by US sanctions targeting Venezuela’s state oil giant PDVSA, the cash-strapped government’s main source of hard currency.

“This certification will help Venezuela’s legitimate government safeguard those assets for the benefit of the Venezuelan people,” State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Guaidó shrugged off Maduro’s efforts to choke his progress as “nothing new”. 

“I’m not dismissing the threats, the persecution at this time, but we’re here, we’re continuing to do our jobs,” he told reporters as he arrived at the National Assembly.

Guaidó, who has been recognised as interim leader by US President Donald Trump, sent a message to the country’s top court on Twitter warning that “the regime is in its final stage.”

“You shouldn’t sacrifice yourselves for the usurper and his gang,” Guaidó added.

‘Serious consequences’

In Washington, Prsident Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton warned of “serious consequences” if any harm comes to the Venezuelan opposition leader.

“Let me reiterate – there will be serious consequences for those who attempt to subvert democracy and harm Guaido,” Bolton tweeted.

US Venezuela Venezuelan opposition's new envoy in Washington Carlos Vecchio. Alex Brandon / PA Images Alex Brandon / PA Images / PA Images

The opposition-controlled legislature, meanwhile, named “diplomatic representatives” to a dozen countries that, like the US, have recognised Guaido as interim president.

At the White House, US Vice President Mike Pence met with Guaido’s appointed charge d’affaires in the United States, Carlos Vecchio, to discuss the ongoing crisis. 

The 35-year-old engineer stormed onto the political stage as a virtual unknown on 3 January, when he was sworn in as the president of the National Assembly, a body that had been largely neutralised by the Supreme Court.

On 23 January, he declared himself the country’s acting president and vowed to lead a transitional government that would hold democratic elections.

To keep up the pressure, he has called two more mass demonstrations against the government this week, and has appealed to the powerful military to change sides, offering amnesty to those who do.

At least 40 people have been killed in clashes with security forces nationwide and at least 850 arrested since 21 January when a brief military rebellion was put down in Caracas, according to the UN human rights office in Geneva.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has not rules out a US military deployment. 

The Lima Group of Latin American countries and Canada, however, is opposed to “military intervention” in Venezuela, Peru’s Foreign Minister Nestor Popolizio said.

Six European nations – Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain – have all said that they will follow suit unless Maduro calls elections by 3 February.

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