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article imageDouble trouble: Venezuelans and their two 'presidents'

By Lissy DE ABREU (AFP)     Jan 26, 2019 in World

Anibal Garcia chooses to make light of a situation which has left him and many other residents of Caracas unsure as to who is in charge of Venezuela.

"Brilliant! We have two of everything in this country: two parliaments, two presidents," says the street vendor, 63.

Prolonged economic crisis has now been joined by high-stakes political turmoil in the country whose official president is Nicolas Maduro, but where National Assembly chief Juan Guaido on Wednesday proclaimed himself in charge, on an acting basis. Guaido pledged to install a transitional government and hold free elections.

"I think we deserve a prize, don't we? The Guinness records!" Garcia says, counting the money he made during the day -- a rarity since cash has become almost impossible to find in an economy where inflation is forecast by the International Monetary Fund to hit 10 million percent this year.

The rivalry at the country's top is reflected at the legislative level.

The National Assembly is the sole institution controlled by the opposition, but the official regime has stripped it of its power since 2017, in favor of a Constituent Assembly made up of regime loyalists.

The doubling-up doesn't stop there, either.

Venezuela is home to a supreme court and an attorney general on the side of Maduro, but their equivalents are based in exile overseas, supported by the opposition.

On Wednesday Guaido said he would "formally assume national executive powers" to end the "usurpation" of power.

"Maduro is supposed to be president but he is not really liked by the Venezuelan people," Garcia said.

"My candidate is Guaido, whether or not that pleases certain people."

- 'Who is the real one?' -

Government supporters hold a rally in support of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas
Government supporters hold a rally in support of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas

In Chacaito district, residents have a lot to worry about in an economically-collapsed nation with hyper-inflation and shortages of food and medicines.

"It's madness," says one.

"Oh, that someone should come to free us," says another, while a third vows he won't accept "an unknown" as head of the country.

Each passerby has a different reply when asked who is president of Venezuela.

"Apparently there are two: Maduro and Guaido, but who is the real one, nobody knows. Legally, it's Maduro but internationally it's Guaido," says Antonio Vera, 30, a computer scientist.

The United States, Canada and major South American governments have already recognized Guaido, and on Saturday the European Union and several of its member states said they, too, would endorse Guiado unless Maduro, in power since 2013, calls new elections within eight days.

Vera, shrugging his shoulders, says he prefers not to talk about the subject, "which we will settle among ourselves."

Guaido, 35, says he is acting according to the Constitution, after Maduro was sworn in on January 10 for a second mandate following an election dismissed by the US, EU and UN as a sham.

Venezuelan opposition supporters gather to listen to the head of Venezuela's National Assembly ...
Venezuelan opposition supporters gather to listen to the head of Venezuela's National Assembly and the country's self-proclaimed "acting president" Juan Guaido, during a rally in Caracas
Federico PARRA, AFP

Maduro has accused Washington -- the first to recognize Guaido as president -- of being behind an attempted coup.

China, Russia, Cuba and Bolivia continue to back Maduro.

- Still joking -

The United States  Canada  Israel 
 and major South American governments have already recognized Gua...
The United States, Canada, Israel and major South American governments have already recognized Guaido
Federico PARRA, AFP

"Nicolas is the president of Venezuela but the country is doing so badly. It is in such a bad state, so sad," laments Maria Aurora Fuentes, 70, who thinks "it's not good" what Guaido did.

"It's because of that that everything isn't going well, because of others who don't want (Maduro). They have attacked him since he began his term," she says.

Yosmar Landaeta, 39, a nurse, is of the same opinion.

"Each has his version of the facts, but it's still Maduro" who is president, she said.

Jose Rodriguez, on the other hand, does not hesitate when asked who is in charge: Juan Guaido, says the musician, 22.

"He's the only one who did things according to the Constitution, who has not misled the people," Rodriguez said.

Some even have trouble remembering the name of the relatively young leader of the National Assembly, Guaido, who had been largely unknown to the public, but they still support him.

The president is the "gentleman who just launched himself, the one who they say proclaimed himself. I think we are going to give him a chance," said Thais Jiminez, 46, a hotel cleaner.

In the middle of this confusion, Venezuelans have not lost their sense of humor.

As the satirical website Chiguire Bipolar asked this week: "If I want to make fun of the president, which one do I choose?"

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