What is happening in Venezuela and who is Juan Guaido?

  • Video report by ITV News Senior International Correspondent John Irvine

May Day was supposed to have been the day thousands of supporters of Venezuela's opposition leader, Juan Guaido, took to the streets.

In a three minute video on Tuesday, Guaido had called for a military uprising against President Nicolas Maduro and urged Venezuelans to take to the streets in support of him.

But while many Venezuelans did take part in rallies around the country, security forces showed no sign of backing the opposition leader's call to arms.

Police officers and soldiers continued to defend Maduro's beleaguered regime, breaking up protests and preventing 12 separate anti-government demonstrations in Caracas from joining together as planned.

In an address to supporters, Guaido asked them to acknowledge that there had not been enough defectors.

But they remain committed to getting rid of the socialist leader whose government is widely detested and blamed for the country's economic and humanitarian crisis.

  • Senior News Correspondent John Irvine reports from Caracas, Venezuela. He reveals:

  • The mood amongst opposition supporters is determined

  • Opposition leader Juan Guaido is rallying the masses

  • But support from President Nicolas Maduro's inner circle is still lacking

What is happening in Venezuela?

Juan Guaido declared himself the interim president of Venezuela in January just two weeks after President Nicolas Maduro was sworn in for a second six-year term.

Mr Maduro assumed the presidency in April 2013 after the death of his mentor, Hugo Chavez.

He was re-elected in May 2018, however Mr Guaido disputes the legitmacy of the polls as most opposition parties failed to run.

Many countries, including the US, the UK and Canada, do not recognise Mr Maduro as the legitimate leader of Venezuela, nor does Venezuela's opposition-controlled National Assembly.

During Mr Maduro's reign, the country has gone through a severe economic downturn, with high inflation plaguing the country, power cuts, food and medicine shortages.

Last year, the Government started printing more money in order to pay workers and fund welfare schemes.

Juan Guaido called on his supporters to take to the streets. Credit: AP

What is the military uprising?

Opposition leader Juan Guaido has taken bold steps to revive his movement to seize power in Venezuela.

He appeared in a three-minute video in the capital, Caracus, calling for a military uprising and urging Venezuelans to take to the streets in support of him.

In the video, he stands alongside men in military uniform and opposition activist Leopoldo Lopez, who has been under house arrest since 2014.

People converged on an overpass in Caracus on Tuesday, where rebels and police clashed in violent street battles.

Opposition supporters were fired at with tear gas and water cannons and in one dramatic scene armoured vehicles plowed into a group of anti-government demonstrators trying to storm the capital's air base, hitting at least two protesters.

At least one person was hit by live ammunition and it is understood 50 people have been injured in the clashes.

Anti-government protester sits by ammunition being used by rebel troops. Credit: AP

Mr Guaido said soldiers who took to the streets would be acting to protect Venezuela’s constitution.

He said the "final phases of Operation Freedom" were beginning, aimed at ending Mr Maduro's "usurpation" of power.

However despite the opposition leader's calls, the rebellion has only garnered limited military support.

He issued another plea on Wednesday, urging supporters to head to the streets again to oust Mr Maduro.

Hundreds of government demonstrators, some of them brandishing firearms, had gathered outside the presidential palace in response to a call to defend Mr Maduro.

Venezuela has been plagued by food shortages and high inflation. Credit: AP

Who is Juan Guaido?

Mr Guaido was elected as leader of the opposition party, the National Assembly, in January.

He is recognised by the US as the legitimate interim president of Venezuela.

At 35-years-old, he was largely unknown on the domestic and international stage but has grown in popularity among Venezuelans who want to end Mr Maduro's long-running control of power.

He wants fair elections to be carried out in Venezuela and has promised to restore the country's ailing economy and distribute aid.

Mr Guaido wants to oust the president and hold fresh elections. Credit: AP

What has been the reaction of the government?

President Maduro appeared on television to address the Venezuelan people and said the opposition had attempted to impose an "illegitimate government."

He said Venezuela had been a victim of "aggression of all kinds".

Mr Maduro tried to project an image of strength, saying he had spoken to several regional military commanders who reaffirmed their loyalty.

Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez pledged his allegiance to the president and condemned Mr Guaido's move as a "terrorist" act and "coup attempt" that was bound to fail like past uprisings.

Information minister Jorge Rodriguez said in a tweet on Tuesday the government was "deactivating" the group and called on the people to defeat the coup.

However Mr Maduro does not have the backing from all in his inner circle, as the head of Venezuela's secret police, Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera, said he had always been loyal to the president but it was time to "rebuild the country."

President Nicolas Maduro said the small coup had failed to sway the military. Credit: AP

What is the international reaction?

President Donald Trump said he was "monitoring the situation in Venezuela very closely" and wrote on Twitter, the US stands with the "People of Venezuela and their Freedom!"

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said the US stands with the Venezuelan people "in their quest for freedom and democracy", adding democracy cannot be defeated.

Prime Minister Theresa May said: "We have been clear that the UK, alongside its international partners, recognises Juan Guaido as the constitutional interim president of Venezuela until credible presidential elections can be held."

Cuba President Miguel Diaz-Canel wrote on Twitter the country "rejects the coup movement."

Colombia’s President Ivan Duque called on Twitter for “soldiers and the people of Venezuela to place themselves on the right side of history, rejecting dictatorship and Maduro’s usurption”.