Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido on Wednesday defended foreign sanctions against his country 24 hours after he was attacked at Caracas international airport by protesters shouting “fascist” and “murderer.”
Guaido returned on Tuesday from a three-week international tour that took him to the U.S., Canada, Colombia, and Europe. He was met by angry groups of protesters, including airline workers enraged that last Friday the U.S. placed sanctions on the state airline company Conviasa.
The U.S. action criminalizing transactions with the flag carrier is the latest of many sanctions by Washington aimed at toppling leftist President Nicolas Maduro‘s regime, particularly by cutting his government’s oil revenue.
One protester appeared to douse Guaido with a fizzy drink.
Maduro told supporters celebrating World Youth Day that “traitors go abroad to ask for sanctions against the people.”
While officially aimed at the Maduro regime, American sanctions have taken a devastating toll on ordinary Venezuelans, particularly the poor.
An April 2019 study from economists Mark Weisbrot from the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Jeffrey Sachs from Columbia University estimated that U.S. sanctions had resulted in the deaths of about 40,000 Venezuelans between 2017 and 2018.
Guaidó foi recebido com protesto na Venezuela. pic.twitter.com/Yvki7HNFSO
— FaniaRodrigues 📸 (@FaniaRodrigues) February 11, 2020
The study finds that sanctions prevented a possible recovery from an economic downturn spurred by a major drop in oil prices around 2016. The economists argue that measures amount to “collective punishment,” creating dire conditions as the Venezuelan people face shortages of food, medicine, and other vital goods and services.
Last March, the U.N.’s rights chief Michelle Bachelet warned that sanctions were significantly exacerbating Venezuela’s economic and humanitarian crisis.
But speaking to journalists after a legislative session held in a Caracas plaza, the National Assembly speaker defended the use of sanctions.
He said they are “the free world’s tools to confront regimes (that) violate human rights, torturers, and murderers.”
He said the sanctions imposed on the top officials in Maduro’s government were an “effective” form of pressure.
Relative Accused of Smuggling Explosives
Guaido’s uncle Juan Marquez, who vanished after flying back with him, had been arrested, top Maduro ally Diosdado Cabello said, accusing him of smuggling explosives.
On his state television program, Cabello said Marquez was detained for allegedly carrying C-4 explosives hidden inside flashlights and perfume refills, and was wearing a bulletproof vest.
Guaido had denounced the “disappearance” of his uncle at the airport and said he would hold Maduro responsible for whatever happened to him.
Cabello, considered the second-most powerful person in the country, also said the sanctions had affected Venezuela’s ability to buy food and medicine.
‘More Sanctions for Criminals’
Maduro retains the support of Venezuela’s powerful military and has resisted Guaido’s challenge, even as the United States ramps up the pressure.
“Yes, there will be more sanctions for the criminals and everyone that supports the dictatorship,” warned Guaido, who on Tuesday had told supporters to “look out for new announcements.”
For the second time in less than a year, Guaido flouted a travel ban imposed by Maduro’s regime to meet with allies around the world, including U.S. President Donald Trump.
Guaido sprang to prominence in January 2019 when, in close coordination with Washington, he declared himself the country’s acting president in a direct challenge to Maduro.
His declaration was based on his position as the speaker of the National Assembly after the legislature declared Maduro’s 2018 re-election invalid following a poll widely denounced as rigged.
Lawmakers called Maduro a “usurper” while more than 50 U.S.-allied countries recognized Guaido as interim president.
Although it sits on the world’s largest proven oil reserves, Venezuela’s economy has collapsed under the pressure of sanctions and the government’s mismanagement, according to most economists.
As a result, the country has suffered five years of recession.
The U.N. says more than 4.5 million people have left the country due to its crisis while inflation is the highest in the world, according to the International Monetary Fund.