On Wednesday the United States, along with Argentina, Canada, Brazil and Colombia, officially stopped recognizing Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's administration as legitimate, according to a White House press release.
The citizens of Venezuela have suffered for too long at the hands of the illegitimate Maduro regime. Today, I have officially recognized the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as the Interim President of Venezuela. https://t.co/WItWPiG9jK— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 23, 2019
The U.S. now views the Venezuelan National Assembly, also known as the Congress, and its leader Juan Guaidó as the legitimate leader of the country. Guaidó is part of the Voluntad Popular, or Popular Will party—the direct opposition to Maduro's United Socialist Party of Venezuela.
Guaidó's party was founded by a group of Venezuelan leaders in 2009 with the goal to overcome poverty in the country and promise democracy for all Venezuelans.
Also opposing Maduro, the Lima Group—a group of 12 Latin American countries—met in August 2017 in Lima, Peru. It denounced the National Constituent Assembly, which is headed by Maduro, and demanded the release of political prisoners, free elections and humanitarian aid to Venezuela.
This announcement came the same day that opponents of the Maduro regime stormed the streets of Venezuela, after Guaidó declared himself to be the interim president of Venezuela by citing article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution.
"I swear to assume all the powers of the national executive as the interim president of Venezuela to secure an end of the usurpation and a treasonous government and to have free elections," Guaidó said in his oath of office. This quote was translated from Spanish.
The legitimacy of the 2018 elections were put into question when Leopoldo Lopez, Maduro's top opponent, was incarcerated prior to the elections for inciting violent protests. Because of this, opponents of the Maduro administration claim that the 2018 election was not free and the current leaders are not legitimate.
Ruben Fernandez, senior civil engineering major and Venezuelan student at UCF, compared the 2014 and 2017 riots to this one and said he noted a key difference—lower-class citizens are now opposed to the government, something that was not seen in the past.
“I feel like after all these years now we have someone [Guaidó] that finally does something, goes a step further and takes a leadership [position],” Fernandez said. “That hasn’t happened since 2014, and it’s just because a lot of people are not happy with the government right now.”
Political science professor Bruce Wilson said that Maduro’s regime is falling under its own weight, both from the pressures of the National Assembly as well from the original denouncement from the Lima Group in 2017. He also cited the movement of people out of Venezuela as a weight that is being put on neighboring countries.
“When you end up with massive numbers of people moving to other countries that are not necessarily prepared to [take them in], they’re not geared up to do this,” Wilson said. “It’s causing tension in Colombia, especially in border areas where they will periodically shut the borders.”
According to U.S. Census data, in 2017 there were 418,366 Venezuelans living in the United States. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services also found that Venezuelans account for the highest percentage of asylum applications in 2017, with 30 percent of total applications coming from Venezuelans in September.
Venezuelan senior sport and exercise science major Ines Contreras said that what is happening is not new: It's 20 years in the making.
“Nothing has changed, other than we have some hope,” Contreras said.
According to a press release from High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, the countries in the Western Hemisphere have been joined by the European Union in recognizing Guaidó as president, unless free elections are held in Venezuela.
"I just hope this changes soon because the only ones [suffering] the consequences of all this, it's not Maduro, it's not the higher government officials," Fernandez said. "It's the Venezuelans."