The Current

Venezuelans have spoken, but which leader will their military choose?

After a turbulent week, two men now claim to be president in Venezuela. We speak to activists on the ground and experts who are watching the unfolding political crisis.

Amid a presidential power struggle, an expert says that who the military sides with will be key

A Venezuelan anti-government protester holds a Venezuelan flag during a demonstration in Argentina this week. (Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press)
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As a political crisis unfolds in Venezuela over rival claims to the presidency, one analyst says the key issue to watch is whose side the military will take.

"It was very noticeable that when President [Nicolas] Maduro... went out onto the balcony of the presidential palace yesterday to give his reaction to [opposition leader Juan] Guaido proclaiming himself president, he wasn't accompanied by anybody in uniform," said Phil Gunson, a senior Venezuela analyst for the International Crisis Group.

Gunson told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti the absence of military officials at Maduro's side could be significant.

"The high command, including the defence minister, have since said that they are on the side of the Maduro government, but the support seems to be less than overwhelming," Gunson said. 

"It's a fair bet that there are still intense talks going on in the barracks across the country as to whether or not this is the moment to jump ship."

Daniel Alvarez, a political activist and one of thousands of people who took to the streets to call for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's ouster this week, describes the atmosphere at the moment opposition leader Juan Guaido was sworn in as interim president. 0:36

Opposition mounts against Maduro

On Wednesday, the head of Venezuela's opposition-led National Assembly, Guaido, took an oath swearing himself in as Venezuela's interim president.

Venezuela's National Assembly head, Juan Guaido, declared himself the country's 'acting president' on the anniversary of a 1958 uprising that overthrew military dictatorship. (Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images)

His party has urged the country's armed forces, as well as foreign powers, to withdraw support for Maduro.

The U.S., Canada and some Latin American and European countries have since announced their support for Guaido as Venezuela's interim leader, but a number of other countries, including Russia, China, Turkey and Iran, remain on Maduro's side.

Meanwhile, protests have rippled across the country, with opposition supporters taking to the streets to demand Maduro's ouster.

Maduro, who took an oath earlier this month for a second six-year term, has been deeply unpopular in Venezuela. Under his leadership, the country has experienced food shortages, hyperinflation and the arrest of political opponents. 

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, seen holding a wanted poster for military leaders accused of conspiring against the government, has been an unpopular leader. (Venezuelan Information Ministry)

To hear more about the situation in Venezuela, Tremonti spoke with:

  • Daniel Alvarez, a political activist and one of thousands of people who were in the streets of Caracas this week calling for Maduro's removal. 
  • George Ciccariello-Maher, an author and visiting scholar at the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics in New York.
  • Phil Gunson, senior analyst in Venezuela for the International Crisis Group

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.


With files from CBC News. Produced by Julie Crysler, Howard Goldenthal and John Chipman.

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