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26 Jan

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

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World Politics

Venezuela

Guaidó made his first public appearance since declaring himself Venezuela’s interim president in place of Nicolás Maduro

Juan Guaidó speaks during a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday.

Juan Guaidó speaks during a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday. Photograph: Carlos García Rawlins/Reuters

The leader of Venezuela’s newly energized opposition, Juan Guaidó, has summoned fresh street protests and reached out to China and Russia as he intensified his campaign to force Nicolás Maduro and his “arrogant” dictatorship from power.

In his first public appearance since declaring himself Venezuela’s interim president on Wednesday, the 35-year-old politician urged citizens to take to the streets and step up their battle against the man he dubbed “El Usurpador” (The Usurper).

A new round of demonstrations would be held next week, with the exact date and locations to be announced on Sunday, Guaidó said on Friday.

“In Miraflores [the presidential palace] they think this movement will deflate, that we will grow tired. But nobody here will tire, nobody will give in. Venezuela has awoken and it will never fall asleep again,” Guaidó declared.

Sí, se puede!” he crowd roared back. “Yes, we can!”

During a 30-minute address to a sea of supporters who had gathered in a square in eastern Caracas, Guaidó renewed his calls for the military to abandon Maduro.

“The time has come to respect the people of Venezuela … Soldiers of the homeland, put yourselves on the side of the people of Venezuela,” he said.

“We are extending our hand … come with us, because there is a future. Maduro doesn’t protect anybody, not from persecution, not from hunger, not from poverty.”

So far those calls have gone largely unheeded, with Venezuela’s defense minister and other senior military leaders declaring loyalty to Maduro. “There is an ancient saying: ‘If you want peace, prepare for war,’” he said.

At a press conference in the presidential palace, Maduro accused the US of seeking to remove him from office with a coup and ordered his armed forces to prepare to “defeat any imperialist enemy who dares to touch our soil”.

“Nobody wants [war]. But we will not surrender or betray our country if there is an armed conflict, be it localized, low-level, mid-level, high-intensity, generalized, in one region or a city,” said Maduro, promising to resist what he called efforts to transform Venezuela into a second Libya.

A crowd of opposition supporters listen to Juan Guaidó at Bolivar Square in Chacao, eastern Caracas, on Friday.

A crowd of opposition supporters listen to Juan Guaidó at Bolívar Square in Chacao, eastern Caracas, on Friday. Photograph: Luis Robayo/AFP/Getty Images

He concluded his address with a swipe at the White House. “Trump, Pompeo, Bolton, Pence: how are you, my friends?” Maduro said sarcastically in English.

During his address, Guaidó also boasted of the widespread international backing he had received, reading a long list of governments which had recognized him including those of the United States, Brazil and Colombia.

“A round of applause for the EU!” Guaidó shouted, although the bloc has yet to explicitly back him as interim president.

Guaidó claimed “the entire planet” was backing his movement to end Maduro’s “dictatorship”.

But there are two crucial exceptions: Russia and China, which both have massive military and economic interests in Venezuela, and have thrown their weight behind Maduro.

On Friday Guaidó said both countries would be welcome in the new post-Maduro Venezuela he was trying to build.

However, Moisés Naím, a Venezuela specialist from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said neither Moscow nor Beijing were likely to turn on Maduro, who came to power in 2013 and has led his country into economic collapse.

Russia would be loth to relinquish a “trophy” foothold in an oil-rich nation that is only a two-and-a-half-hour flight from Miami. China’s financial interests are also too great.

“The moment [Beijing says] they do not think Maduro is the legitimate president of Venezuela – that phrase will cost them $65bn,” he said, referring to the vast debt racked up under Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chávez.

With Donald Trump’s White House backing Guaidó, that means a clash between global powers is possible, Naím said.

“My main concern is that Venezuela becomes a football in this game between powers, where the interests of Venezuelans become secondary.”

In a surprise move on Friday, the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, named Elliott Abrams, a veteran of Reagan-era cold war policy in Latin America, as special envoy for Venezuela, saying he would accompany Pompeo to a special UN security council session on Venezuela on Saturday, and travel to the region soon.

Abrams, who noted he had last worked in the state department 30 years ago, was intimately involved in Ronald Reagan’s policies in Nicaragua and El Salvador in the 1980s.

In 1991 he pleaded guilty to two counts of misleading Congress over Reagan’s secret plan to bypass the legislature and fund Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

The Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has said his country is prepared to mediate talks between the two sides, and on Friday, Maduro announced he was prepared to hold talks with his challenger “any place, any time”.

But Guaidó rejected that invitation: “Fake dialogue is no good to anyone.”

“The only solution now is an end to usurpation, a transition government and free elections,” he said.

Supporters who had packed the Plaza Bolívar de Chacao to hear Guaidó speak expressed optimism about the future. “I came to see history in the making. I dropped everything I was doing to come see this,” said Morella Atencio, a 48-year-old blogger.

“I am happy, afraid, nervous, expectant. Anything can happen at this point,” Atencio added.

Carlos Paparoni, a lawmaker from the opposition Primero Justicia (Justice First) party, said he believed Maduro now knew he was “cornered”.

“We’ve managed to pull Maduro out of his comfort zone, we have shaken the status quo and you are no longer faced with a revolution that feels entrenched in power,” Paparoni said.

Human rights groups on Friday said they feared an escalation in deadly repression which has reportedly already seen 26 people killed across the country this week.

“There is every reason to worry that the government’s response to these protests will follow the same pattern we have been documenting in Venezuela since 2014,” warned José Miguel Vivanco, Human Rights Watch’s Americas chief.

But in his speech, Guaidó said political repression had failed in the past and would fail again now. “Here we are and here we will remain, working for the freedom of our country,” he said.

Paraphrasing the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, Guaidó added: “They can cut a flower but they will never stop the spring from coming.”

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Swedish school strike activist demands economists tackle runaway global warming. Read her Davos speech here

‘I want you to panic’: 16-year-old issues climate warning at Davos – video

Our house is on fire. I am here to say, our house is on fire.

According to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), we are less than 12 years away from not being able to undo our mistakes. In that time, unprecedented changes in all aspects of society need to have taken place, including a reduction of our CO2 emissions by at least 50%.

And please note that those numbers do not include the aspect of equity, which is absolutely necessary to make the Paris agreement work on a global scale. Nor does it include tipping points or feedback loops like the extremely powerful methane gas released from the thawing Arctic permafrost.

At places like Davos, people like to tell success stories. But their financial success has come with an unthinkable price tag. And on climate change, we have to acknowledge we have failed. All political movements in their present form have done so, and the media has failed to create broad public awareness.

But Homo sapiens have not yet failed.

Yes, we are failing, but there is still time to turn everything around. We can still fix this. We still have everything in our own hands. But unless we recognise the overall failures of our current systems, we most probably don’t stand a chance.

We are facing a disaster of unspoken sufferings for enormous amounts of people. And now is not the time for speaking politely or focusing on what we can or cannot say. Now is the time to speak clearly.

Solving the climate crisis is the greatest and most complex challenge that Homo sapiens have ever faced. The main solution, however, is so simple that even a small child can understand it. We have to stop our emissions of greenhouse gases.

Either we do that or we don’t.

Greta Thunberg (left) takes part in a ‘school strike for climate’ at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Greta Thunberg (left) takes part in a ‘school strike for climate’ at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

 

You say nothing in life is black or white. But that is a lie. A very dangerous lie. Either we prevent 1.5C of warming or we don’t. Either we avoid setting off that irreversible chain reaction beyond human control or we don’t.

Either we choose to go on as a civilisation or we don’t. That is as black or white as it gets. There are no grey areas when it comes to survival.

We all have a choice. We can create transformational action that will safeguard the living conditions for future generations. Or we can continue with our business as usual and fail.

That is up to you and me.

Some say we should not engage in activism. Instead we should leave everything to our politicians and just vote for a change instead. But what do we do when there is no political will? What do we do when the politics needed are nowhere in sight?

Here in Davos – just like everywhere else – everyone is talking about money. It seems money and growth are our only main concerns.

And since the climate crisis has never once been treated as a crisis, people are simply not aware of the full consequences on our everyday life. People are not aware that there is such a thing as a carbon budget, and just how incredibly small that remaining carbon budget is. That needs to change today.

No other current challenge can match the importance of establishing a wide, public awareness and understanding of our rapidly disappearing carbon budget, that should and must become our new global currency and the very heart of our future and present economics.

We are at a time in history where everyone with any insight of the climate crisis that threatens our civilisation – and the entire biosphere – must speak out in clear language, no matter how uncomfortable and unprofitable that may be.

We must change almost everything in our current societies. The bigger your carbon footprint, the bigger your moral duty. The bigger your platform, the bigger your responsibility.

Adults keep saying: “We owe it to the young people to give them hope.” But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.

I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.

  • This is an edited version of a speech given by Greta Thunberg at Davos this week.

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