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Venezuelan lawmakers strip opposition leader Juan Guaido of immunity

Lawmakers loyal to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro stripped opposition leader Juan Guaido of immunity Tuesday in a move that paves the way to prosecute and potentially arrest him for allegedly violating the constitution after declaring himself interim president.

Move on Tuesday paves way for Guaido's prosecution and possibly his arrest

In January, Juan Guaido declared himself Venezuela's interim president and vowed to overthrow Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. (Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press)

Lawmakers loyal to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro stripped opposition leader Juan Guaido of immunity Tuesday in a move that paves the way to prosecute and potentially arrest him for allegedly violating the constitution after declaring himself interim president.

The move by the government-backed National Constituent Assembly on Tuesday paves the way for Guaido's prosecution and possibly his arrest. But it is still unclear whether Maduro will actively threaten Guaido, who has embarked on an international campaign to topple the president's socialist administration. 

A defiant Guaido said he is undeterred. He spoke publicly after losing his immunity, saying he knows he runs the risk of being arrested. 

"We are not going to evade our responsibility," Guaido told reporters in eastern Caracas after the announcement. "They thought this would be easy. But it won't be. If they want to move forward, they will have to assume the consequences."

Up until now, Maduro has avoided throwing the 35-year-old lawmaker in jail, perhaps as a way to avoid a direct confrontation over the man that the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump and roughly 50 other nations recognize as Venezuela's legitimate leader.

In January, Guaido declared himself Venezuela's interim president and vowed to overthrow Maduro. 

Maduro blames Washington for trying to install a puppet government to seize Venezuela's vast oil reserves. 

The Constituent Assembly met a day after Venezuela's Supreme Court of Justice Maikel Moreno, a Maduro ally, ordered the legislative body to strip Guaido's immunity for violating an order banning him leaving the country while under investigation by the attorney general. 

The opposition leader is also accused of inciting violence linked to street protests and receiving illicit funds from abroad.

Move comes as thousands cross into Colombia

In recent weeks, Guaido has come under increasing pressures. Officials jailed his chief of staff, Roberto Marrero, accused of involvement in a "terrorist" scheme to overthrow the government. 

Meanwhile on Tuesday, thousands of Venezuelans broke through barricades along the international border with Colombia, according to the migration office in Bogota, which warned Maduro that he would be held responsible for any problems that may occur.

Maduro in February blocked bridges joining the two nations in a bid to prevent a U.S.-backed effort to distribute hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid to the crisis-wracked nation.

With bridges blocked by containers and trucks, Venezuelans have been wading through the Tachira River to reach the city of Cucuta, on Colombia's northern border, to find food, medicines and work. But torrential rains in recent days has made that impossible.

The usurper Maduro is responsible for anything that may happen to the population that is transiting between the two countries.- Christian Kruger, head of Colombia's migration agency

"The usurper Maduro is responsible for anything that may happen to the population that is transiting between the two countries," said Christian Kruger, head of Colombia's migration agency, highlighting the risk to the Simon Bolivar bridge being weakened.
 
Millions of Venezuelans have fled to Colombia to escape widespread shortages of food and medicine in their homeland, seeking jobs locally and passage into other Latin American countries

Colombia's government says providing Venezuelan migrants access to basic services and expanding health care, education and public utilities costs it a half percentage point of annual gross domestic product. Colombia's GDP in 2018 was some $312 billion US. 

With files from Reuters

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