Yesterday, 30 April, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó called for a popular uprising in what he announced would be the “final phase” of a movement to remove President Nicholas Maduro from power. Guaidó announced the beginning of “Operación Libertad” alongside a number of soldiers near a military base in Caracas. Later in the day there were armed clashes between rival groups of soldiers and police, as well as violent protests across Caracas. Government security forces used tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition to disperse opposition supporters.
On Tuesday night Maduro appeared on television to announce that the senior commanders of the security forces remained loyal to him and to claim that he had defeated an “attempted coup.” Both Maduro and Guaidó have called for mass demonstrations of popular support to take place later today, 1 May. As this crisis continues to unfold, the risk of further violence is extremely high.
Following several years of widespread protests against the government of President Maduro and an unprecedented economic and humanitarian crisis, the political conflict in Venezuela escalated when Maduro began his second term in January 2019. Accusing the government of electoral fraud, dozens of states – including many Latin American and European countries, as well as the United States and Canada – recognized Guaidó as interim President. Since then, Maduro and Guaidó have been engaged in an intense struggle for control of the state.
During 2018 independent experts mandated by the Organization of American States (OAS) accused the Venezuelan government of crimes against humanity, including during deadly crackdowns on protests in 2014 and 2017. Most recently, at least 40 people were killed during anti-government demonstrations in January 2019.
Regardless of the outcome of the current crisis and the intensifying struggle for political power in Venezuela, it is essential that all parties respect universal human rights, comply with international law, and uphold their responsibility to protect civilians.