Venezuela's Guaido calls for more protests as pressure mounts on Maduro

Juan Guaido, the Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed president, is calling for new street demonstrations as pressure intensified on President Nicolas Maduro and the crisis-stricken OPEC country.

Embattled president has promised to stay in office, backed by Russia and China

Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido, accompanied by his wife Fabiana Rosales, speaks to the media after mass at a local church in Caracas on Sunday. Guaido is calling for new street protests to be held on Wednesday. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Juan Guaido, the Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed president, called Monday for new street demonstrations as pressure intensified on President Nicolas Maduro and the crisis-stricken OPEC country.

Countries around the world have recognized Guaido as Venezuela's rightful leader, and the United States vowed to starve Maduro's administration of oil revenue after he was sworn in Jan. 10 for a second term that was widely dubbed illegitimate.

Maduro says the U.S. is promoting a coup against him directed by President Donald Trump's hardline policy advisers, who include Cold War veterans John Bolton and Elliott Abrams.

Maduro has promised to stay in office, backed by Russia and China, which have bankrolled his government and fought off efforts to have his government disavowed by the United Nations.

Guaido also said he has ordered congress to begin the process of naming new boards of directors to state oil company PDVSA and U.S. refining subsidiary Citgo.

Seeks control of oil companies

Guaido's team of advisers was rushing to take control of the country's main foreign asset, U.S. refiner Citgo Petroleum, before a potential bond default that could leave half the company in creditors' hands, sources close to the talks told Reuters.

He also faces the intricate legal challenge of nominating new leadership for PDVSA, the state-owned oil and natural gas company, and its subsidiaries, including Citgo, who would manage the companies during a transition.

Without sources of revenue and control of foreign assets, Guaido's team faces long odds in succeeding — especially since Maduro still controls the military and PDVSA.

The calls came as the U.S. announced new sanctions on PDVSA that involve limiting PDVSA's transactions with people in the U.S., although U.S. refineries can still import Venezuelan oil, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said on Monday.

'We must remain united'

Guaido said opposition sympathizers should take to the streets on Wednesday to pass out copies of a pamphlet proposing amnesty that would give some legal protection to members of the military in hopes they will turn against Maduro.

"We must remain united as active agents of change in every corner of the country," Guaido tweeted on Monday. "We're doing well, very well, Venezuela!"

Supporters of Guaido hold a figurine with a sign that reads 'I fight for freedom,' during a rally in Caracas on Saturday. (Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters)

On Sunday, Israel and Australia joined countries backing the 35-year-old Guaido, and Trump said his government had accepted Venezuelan opposition figure Carlos Alfredo Vecchio as a diplomatic representative to the United States.

Guaido took advantage of a major street demonstration on Jan. 23 to swear himself in as the country's rightful leader, accusing Maduro of usurping power following a disputed 2018 re-election that countries around the world described as a fraud.

Guaido is asking for help in getting control of the Venezuelan government's offshore assets.

In recent days, he urged British Prime Minister Theresa May and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney to block Maduro's government from collecting more than $1 billion in gold held by the Bank of England.

Early on Sunday, alongside Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino, Maduro watched a platoon of soldiers release volleys of rocket-propelled grenades, machine-gun anti-aircraft fire and tank rounds at hillside targets, the Russian ordnance kicking up clouds of dust at the Fort of Paramacay, an armoured vehicle base.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro takes part in a military exercise in Valencia on Sunday. Maduro, 56, is confronting an unprecedented challenge to his authority after opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president, citing a fraudulent election. (Miraflores Palace via Reuters)

Maduro said the display showed the world he had the backing of the military and that Venezuela's armed forces were ready to defend the country.

Venezuela's once-buoyant socialist economic system has imploded from corruption and mismanagement since the collapse of world oil prices in 2014, pushing inflation to almost two million per cent and driving millions of Venezuelans to neighbouring countries.

Maduro says his government is the victim of an "economic war" led by his political adversaries with the help of Washington, which has levied several rounds of sanctions against the country since 2017.