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Supported By Venezuela's Military, President Maduro Stays In Power


An opposition leader in Venezuela declared himself president. Now how does he propose to get his hands on the levers of power? Juan Guaido says the elected president, Nicolas Maduro, won election through a sham, and he has the backing of the United States. But Maduro still has his office, command of security services and the support of Russia.

Isaias Medina represented Venezuela at the United Nations until he resigned in 2017, accusing President Maduro of crimes against humanity. He's now at Harvard's Kennedy School. And he is on the line. Good morning, sir.

ISAIAS MEDINA: Good morning to you. And thank you very much to your show.

INSKEEP: Do you think Guaido has a plan to actually end up in power?

MEDINA: Yes. And I believe it's very important to clarify that he did not self-proclaim himself as president. He actually is fulfilling the void. The original was illegally convened by a constituent assembly of the elections in 20 of May. And now he's fulfilling the end of the period of Maduro that has expired.

INSKEEP: Oh, because Venezuela's constitution says if there's a vacancy in the presidency, Guaido, who is the leader of the legislature, should step in. That is where he claims his legitimacy from, right?

MEDINA: Absolutely, and he also took the articles of the constitution that, as a duty, observed the Venezuelan people, with authority or not, to restore democracy in the country.

INSKEEP: But you have a problem - or he has a problem in that he's declared himself president, but he's not in the office. He doesn't have the command of the military. The military seems to be following the orders of President Maduro, who has powerful friends. Do you think he has a plan to complete this transition in some way that is not catastrophic?

MEDINA: Yes, I do. And I think it's very important to signal that Venezuela today, under Maduro, is a failed proxy state, Cuba-run with more than 20,000 Cuban agents that have been infiltrating our armed forces and other institutions that are running the country. It's financed by China, with $64 billion in debt, and armed by Russia, with $12 billion in a weapon arsenal. So with intimate ties to Iran - exploiting thorium, coltan, uranium and Turkey buying illegal...

INSKEEP: Certainly a bad...

MEDINA: ...Sanctioned gold.

INSKEEP: ...Situation, but that just underlines Maduro has powerful friends. What is Guaido going to do about that?

MEDINA: Well, there's a big difference between today and previous protests - is that the opportunity that we can certainly highlight is the support of the international community due to the presence of new international leaders, such as President Trump, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Pinera in Chile and Duque in Colombia.

Together with the secretary general of the OAS, Luis Almagro, they have managed to show that this complexity of humanitarian apocalypse inflicted to the Venezuelan civilian population is a broader problem that impacts the American hemisphere...

INSKEEP: Well, maybe you can give us...

MEDINA: ...In so many ways.

INSKEEP: Maybe you can give us insight on this next question then. We know the United States has supported the opposition leader. The United States has refused the demand that American diplomats leave the country, although nonessential personnel are leaving. Do you have any information suggesting what assurances the United States has given Guaido of support? In other words, how far do you think the U.S. is willing to go to support him?

MEDINA: I think it has been very clear. President Trump has - says that every option is still on the table. And I think that it was very clear yesterday as well, at the OAS, when the United States offered $20 million in humanitarian aid. So are we talking about responsibility to protect principle and international humanitarian intervention?

I think, by all means, more than half a million people have died for weaponization of starvation and medicine scarcity to remain in power. So is this not the responsibility of the international community to respond and to protect the civilian population?

INSKEEP: It's a catastrophic - it's a tragic situation. Do Venezuelan opposition figures believe that they will have American military support should it come to that?

MEDINA: Well, what I can tell you is Venezuela under Maduro is a gateway to transnational organized crime, illegally financing international terrorism with the presence of ELN, FARC and Hezbollah through drug trafficking, grand corruption, kidnapping, illegal mining. And he's a clear threat to peace and security in the region...


MEDINA: ...And a clear risk to the national security of the United States. So I believe we all have to work together to free our country and restore democracy, justice and freedom.

INSKEEP: Mr. Medina, thanks so much, appreciate it.

MEDINA: Oh, thank you.

INSKEEP: Isaias Medina is now a fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.