Christians in Venezuela are asking for prayer as their country plummets deeper into political and financial crisis. Currently, there are two men who are claiming to be the president of the Latin American nation: a long-reigning socialist dictator and a 35-year-old opposition leader.
How did this happen?
Socialist figurehead Nicolas Maduro, who has been in power since the 2013 death of former president Hugo Chavez, supposedly won 67.8 percent of the vote in last May’s presidential election. However, neighboring countries such as the United States and Brazil swiftly condemned the electoral process as rigged and fraudulent.
Following mass demonstrations Wednesday, young opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is the head of the National Assembly, has now declared himself the interim president of the stricken country.
Venezuela’s opposition filling streets nationwide today in protests against President Maduro and his socialist government. pic.twitter.com/IjzXdd6aOh
— NBC News (@NBCNews) January 23, 2019
The protests turned violent Wednesday after thousands of citizens took to the streets to voice their opposition to Maduro’s regime. Four people are said to have died as a result of the clashes, which have involved police using live rounds on protesters.
Guaido, who was arrested by Maduro’s loyal secret police earlier this month, has urged the security forces to abandon their loyalty to the socialist leader and join a new and progressive Venezuela.
A picture of just one of the various meeting points in #Caracas today calling for the end of the Maduro regime & restoration of Constitution. Massive turnout across dozens of cities across #Venezuela. Today is much different than past protests. #23Ene pic.twitter.com/qzOBCwQul8
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) January 23, 2019
On Monday, 27 members of the National Guard revolted against Maduro, seizing weapons from a command post in the capital, Caracas. The Ministry of Defense insisted that the group was simply “stealing” weapons, but Guaido has urged other military personnel to follow suit and rebel against the incumbent dictator.
WATCH: Dramatic video shows Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido being taken into custody pic.twitter.com/pnNcCYWv8H
— BNO News (@BNONews) January 13, 2019
Why has the economy collapsed?
Staggeringly, Venezuela once boasted Latin America’s richest economy, with ample oil reserves that were larger than even Iran and Saudi Arabia. However, under the socialist dictatorship of Hugo Chavez, and now his mentee, Maduro, the economy has been plagued by corruption, hyperinflation and enormous debt. As a result, children are dying from malnutrition as regular citizens struggle to afford even basic amenities.
Public health is in a horrific state. There are grave shortages of basic medicines and hospitals are “like something from the 19th century,” one surgeon, Dr. Christian Pino, told The New York Times from his hospital in the city of Merida.
The financial issues began decades ago when the Venezuelan government decided against developing a balanced economy and instead relied solely on its oil exports. Then, when oil prices dropped in 2014, it became near impossible to import goods at the same rate, meaning prices on everyday items soared dramatically.
According to Reuters, the International Monetary Fund is predicting that the Venezuelan inflation could reach as much as 10 million percent this year.
More than three million people have fled the country in recent years due to the financial and political turmoil.
What is the U.S. position on the political crisis?
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump declared his support for opposition leader Juan Guaido.
“The citizens of Venezuela have suffered for too long at the hands of the illegitimate Maduro regime,” he posted on Twitter. “Today, I have officially recognized the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as the Interim President of Venezuela.”
The citizens of Venezuela have suffered for too long at the hands of the illegitimate Maduro regime. Today, I have officially recognized the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as the Interim President of Venezuela. https://t.co/WItWPiG9jK
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 23, 2019
Soon afterward, Canada, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Paraguay and Costa Rica all announced their intention to back the opposition leader.
“Brazil will politically and economically support the transition process so that democracy and social peace return to Venezuela,” tweeted Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro.
Today on the first full day of the Guaido administration I will work on getting Congressional support for a multilateral humanitarian aid plan so we can get food & medicine to the suffering people of Venezuela.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) January 24, 2019
In immediate response to Trump’s declaration, Maduro ordered all U.S. diplomatic personnel out of the country, giving them just 72 hours to leave.
As the good people of Venezuela make your voices heard tomorrow, on behalf of the American people, we say: estamos con ustedes. We are with you. We stand with you, and we will stay with you until Democracy is restored and you reclaim your birthright of Libertad. pic.twitter.com/ThzIAqBoRn
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) January 22, 2019
“Nicolás Maduro is a dictator without legitimate power,” Vice President Mike Pence declared in an impassioned video address to the people of Venezuela. “Nicolás Maduro must go.”
It is estimated that Maduro has arrested almost 13,000 people who have publicly opposed him.
Urging the population to take back their freedom, Pence finished with the words “vayan con dios,” which translates to “Go with God.”
Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez snapped back at the VP’s intervention, reportedly telling a news conference, “Yankee go home!”
#UPDATE Venezuelan leader Nicolas #Maduro prepared to rally his military supporters Thursday as the US and key allies backed a challenge from his leading rival Juan #Guaido who declared himself "acting president" https://t.co/snV6tBOTCp pic.twitter.com/1S2Zrawri6
— AFP news agency (@AFP) January 24, 2019
A call to prayer
Amid the chaos, Pastor Samuel Olson, president of the Evangelical Council of Venezuela, urged the nation to pray “together as a family, asking God that through His Holy Spirit cares, directs and blesses our nation in this critical hour of its history.”
In a video released by Evangelico Digital, Christians could be seen praying at an open town hall meeting in the city of Maracay.
The Confederation Union of Christian Churches of Venezuela has also backed the opposition leader and called for “an end to the usurpation of the Presidency of the Republic,” and “an urgent government of transition and free elections in the context of a big national agreement.”
Please pray for this troubled nation at such a tumultuous time.