Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was sworn in to a second term Thursday amid international calls for him to step down and a devastating economic crisis, but with some long-time friends in attendance both from abroad and at home.
But Cuba's President Miguel Diaz-Canel, Bolivian President Evo Morales and President Anatoli Bibilov of a breakaway province of Georgia were among the foreign leaders who attended the ceremony at the country's Supreme Court.
Maduro said 94 countries had sent representatives to the inauguration. And while Maduro's popularity has plunged amid scarcities, hyperinflation and rising authoritarianism that have sparked a mass emigration, supporters who receive government subsidies in shantytowns continue to back the man who took over for the late Hugo Chavez.
"It's not the president's fault," said Frances Velazquez, a 43-year-old mother of two who survives on government-subsidized boxes of rice, flour and cooking oil. Velazquez blamed opportunists who drive up the prices on scarce items making life difficult for families like hers.
Others, like construction worker Ramon Bermudez, have lost hope of escaping Maduro's rule and planned on hunkering down at home for the inauguration.
"All that's left to do is raise your hand to heaven and ask God to help us," said Bermudez, camped out on a Caracas sidewalk with hundreds of others waiting for gas. "There's nothing more."
Residents of Caracas awoke Thursday to unusually quiet streets but with a noticeably increased security presence and armed checkpoints. State TV showed Maduro arriving at the Supreme Court where he is took the oath of office from Chief Justice Maikel Moreno. Hundreds of officials gathered inside the court's chambers cheered Maduro.
Maduro's second term extends Venezuela's socialist revolution amid widespread complaints that he has stripped Venezuela of its last vestiges of democracy.
"Not before, not now, nor will there ever be a dictatorship in Venezuela," Maduro said in a Wednesday news conference. Bermudez, 52, disagrees and points out the irony of living in a nation with the world's most abundant oil reserves yet having to wait in line overnight recently to fill three canisters of natural gas to cook at home.
Oil-rich Venezuela was once among Latin America's wealthiest nations. It produced 3.5 million barrels of crude daily when Chavez took power. Output now has plummeted to less than a third of that. Critics blame years of rampant corruption and mismanagement of the state-run oil firm PDVSA.
The economic collapse has left the nation of roughly 30 million in the throes of a historic crisis.
An estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans have fled their nation's hyperinflation, food and medical shortages over the last two years, according to the United Nations. Those remaining live on a monthly minimum wage equal to less than USD 5 and falling daily.
Venezuela's splintered opposition movement has failed to counter the socialist party's dominance. Maduro's government has jailed or driven into exile its most popular leaders.
Anti-government politicians successfully rallied thousands to the streets across Venezuela for four months of demonstrations in 2017, when clashes with government forces left more than 120 protesters dead and thousands injured. Maduro remained squarely in power.
In May, he declared victory in presidential election that his political opponents and many foreign nations consider illegitimate because popular opponents were banned from running and the largest anti-government parties boycotted the race.
The opposition-led Congress opened its session for the year this week, led by 35-year-old Juan Guaido, who vowed to battle against Maduro. Guaido said Maduro is "usurping the presidency." The Trump administration has increased pressure on Maduro through financial sanctions, this week singling out powerful Venezuelan media magnate Raul Gorrin. US banks are also banned from doing business with Venezuela, putting a financial strangle-hold on the cash-strapped country.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that the United States will keep up pressure in support of the Venezuelan people. "It is time for Venezuela to begin a transitional process that can restore the constitutional, democratic order by holding free and fair elections," Pompeo said.
It is time for Venezuela to begin a transitional process that can restore the constitutional, democratic order by holding free and fair elections that respect the will of the Venezuelan people.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)