Venezuela’s longtime strongman Nicolas Maduro and members of the country’s armed forces could be granted amnesty as part of a transition toward democracy, self-declared interim President Juan Guaido said in an interview with CNN en Español.
Guaido, the president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, declared himself acting president last week amid deadly protests against Maduro, who has refused to yield power.
Maduro was re-elected in May 2018 in a contest many in the international community said was not fair, free and transparent.
The country has since been mired in a severe economic crisis, with food shortages and soaring unemployment becoming the new norm.
Demonstrators and dissidents CNN spoke with said they’re driven by hunger more than anything else.
Inside a Caracas supermarket last week, a modest basket of water, nuts, cheese, ham and fruit cost $200, though monthly wages are less than $10. No eggs or bread could be found.
“Our people have suffered,” Guaido said. “We are waking up from a nightmare to the dream of rebuilding Venezuela.”
The US is among a handful of countries around the world that have chosen to recognize Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate ruler. Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru have also recognized Guaido as president, while Russia, China, Cuba and Turkey are among those backing Maduro.
Guaido has only been a leader of the opposition and head of the National Assembly for three weeks. Still, the 35-year-old has managed to tap into the frustrations of the populace and quickly energize them against Maduro.
In his interview with CNN, Guaido said he was hoping to win the support of the the country’s powerful armed forces to convince Maduro to step down.
“We are ready to do what is necessary to see democracy,” Guaido said.
However, he warned that he would not start a “false dialogue” with a regime that jails and tortures political opponents, something Maduro’s regime has been consistently accused of.
Guaido told CNN he has spoken with US President Donald Trump and other leaders from the region, including Colombian President Ivan Duque and Argentinian President Mauricio Macri.
He declined to say if he and Trump had discussed military options in Venezuela. Maduro has accused Guaido and the United States of attempting to orchestrate a coup to remove him from power.
Maduro said Monday that any bloodshed in the country would be Trump’s fault.
US announces sanctions
Guaido spoke to CNN just hours after the United States announced it was sanctioning Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA), in an attempt to put serious financial pressure on the Maduro regime by targeting oil, the country’s most valuable export.
The United States accused Maduro and Venezuela’s top leaders of pillaging the country’s oil wealth for personal gain when announcing the sanctions.
“A variety of schemes have been designed to embezzle billions of dollars from PdVSA for the personal gain of corrupt Venezuelan officials and businessmen,” US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.
“The United States is holding accountable those responsible for Venezuela’s tragic decline.”
In a televised address Monday night, Maduro denied any wrongdoing by PdVSA and accused Trump and his national security adviser, John Bolton, of robbing the people of Venezuela.
Bolton said the measure blocks about $7 billion in assets and would result in more than $11 billion in lost assets over the next year.
Maduro has consistently blamed Washington for the country’s economic collapse, accusing it of carrying out campaign of economic terrorism.
But critics have long accused Maduro of mismanaging Venezuela’s resources.
The regime has for years funded huge social welfare programs and price-control policies started by his predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chavez, who was seen by many as a champion of the poor as he steered the country toward socialism. Economists have long said the regime’s practices were unsustainable and likely to lead to out-of-control inflation.
Years of financial mismanagement led to a serious crisis in 2016, when plummeting oil triggered hyperinflation and massive shortages of food and other necessities. Inflation has only gotten worse; the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts it will hit 10,000,000% this year.
CNN’s Begona Blanco Munoz, Nick Paton Walsh, Eliott C. McLaughlin and Ray Sanchez contributed to this report