Venezuelan government bars opposition leader Juan Guaido from public office for 15 years
Government cites alleged financial irregularities; Guiado expects interference from President Nicolas Maduro
The Venezuelan government on Thursday said it has barred opposition leader Juan Guaido from holding public office for 15 years, though the National Assembly leader responded soon afterward that he would continue his campaign to oust President Nicolas Maduro.
The announcement by state comptroller Elvis Amoroso, a close ally of Maduro, cited alleged irregularities in the financial records of Guaido and reflected a tightening of government pressure on an opposition movement backed by the United States, Canada and dozens of other countries.
Guaido, who was elected to the assembly in 2015, has taken 90 international trips without accounting for the origin of the estimated $94,000 US in expenses, Amoroso said.
He also accused the opposition leader of harming Venezuela through his interactions with foreign governments, dozens of which support Guaido's claim that he is interim president of the country.
Guaido dismissed the comptroller's announcement as irrelevant because, in his view, Maduro's government is illegitimate.
"The only body that can appoint a comptroller is the legitimate parliament," he said.
Guaido has been recognized as head of state by most Western countries after invoking the constitution to assume the interim presidency, arguing Maduro's 2018 re-election was illegitimate and that he became a usurper when his second term began in January.
Maduro dismisses Guaido's claim to the presidency as a U.S.-backed effort to seize power in Venezuela, which is struggling under hyperinflation and crippling blackouts that have left millions of citizens without power this month.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesperson Robert Palladino described the ban on Guaido as "ridiculous."
Meeting in Ecuador, delegations from a group of European and Latin American countries also criticized the Venezuelan government's move.
"Such a political decision without regard to due process is yet another demonstration of the arbitrary nature of judicial procedures in the country," said the International Contact Group on Venezuela. The group says it seeks the peaceful restoration of democracy to the country.
Canada condemns move
Chrystia Freeland, Canada's foreign affairs minister, released a statement condemning the Maduro government's actions.
"Such efforts to sideline the widely and internationally recognized interim president of Venezuela further demonstrate Maduro's contempt for democracy and the constitutional rights of Venezuelans," the statement said.
"Canada will keep working with the Lima Group and our international partners as we continue to call for an urgent and peaceful resolution to the crisis in Venezuela."
The power struggle between Maduro and Guaido has intensified the sense of crisis in Venezuela, which suffered its worst blackouts earlier this month and then another round of power outages that paralyzed commerce this week.
Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez said Thursday that electricity had been restored in most of the country, though some areas remained without power and experts have warned that the system is vulnerable to further disruptions.
Power returns for some
Schools and public offices were still closed, but there was more traffic in the streets of Caracas and many people were able to make electronic payments for the first time in days.
"It's a moment of happiness in the middle of this tragedy, to see that my card worked," Caracas resident Maria Isabel Vera said after buying medicine in a pharmacy.
Both the opposition and the government plan demonstrations on Saturday as they try to project resolve in a debilitating standoff in what was once one of Latin America's wealthiest countries. More than three million Venezuelans have left the country in recent years, escaping dire economic conditions that left many without adequate food or medicine.
Maduro, who is backed by Russia, says he is the target of a U.S.-led coup plot and has accused Washington and Guaido of sabotaging Venezuela's power grid. He blamed a "cyberattack" by the United States for the first outage. He also said this week's blackout was caused by a gunman linked to the "perverse, diabolical right-wing" firing on a hydroelectric complex.
Both the U.S. and the Venezuelan opposition, as well as many electricity experts, believe neglect and mismanagement are the cause of the country's electricity woes.
"They have spent years stealing money and not doing maintenance," said Yolimar Arellano, a 43-year-old office worker in Caracas, who said she had electricity at home but no water.
Since the second outage hit on Monday, three people died in public hospitals due to a lack of electricity, according to Julio Castro, a doctor and member of the Doctors for Health nongovernmental organization.
Guaido has called for fresh protests on Saturday against Maduro.
with files from CBC News and Reuters