The re-invigorated political standoff between Nicolas Maduro and his vocal and inspired opponents has turned the gaze of the international community towards Venezuela's humanitarian and economic plight, increasing pressure on the socialist leader.
The South American country is navigating uncharted political waters after congress chief Juan Guiado declared himself interim head of state on Wednesday and demanded democracy and free elections - quickly garnering the diplomatic backing of the United States. Maduro however has been backed by the likes of Russia and China.
"The citizens of Venezuela have suffered for too long at the hands of the illegitimate Maduro regime," President Donald Trump said in a tweet officially recognizing Guaido as the Interim President of Venezuela on Wednesday.
Fox News Radio's Guy Benson sat down with Ana Quintana Senior Policy Analyst, Latin America and the Western Hemisphere at The Heritage Foundation to get the latest.
Guy Benson: [00:00:37] Welcome back to Benson and Harf for those. Right there our sound bites a sampling. Of the sounds of upheaval the sounds of people demanding justice in a country that is being absolutely destroyed by a corrupt socialist regime. In Venezuela we talked about this yesterday on the show and we want to revisit it as the situation continues to escalate. Now 14 countries have recognized the opposition leaders as the true government of Venezuela. There was leadership from the Trump administration on this. And now 11 countries in the region plus the Canadians and the French as well joining the U.S. government in this effort. And joining me now to help us understand the situation better is Ana Quintana who is the senior policy analyst for Latin America at the Heritage Foundation. Ana it's great to have you here. Thank you so much.
Ana Quintana: [00:01:40] Hi how are you.
Guy Benson: [00:01:42] Great. So if you would just give us the very latest on you know what people are seeing on their TV screens these images of thousands of people in the streets. How did we get to this place?
Ana Quintana: [00:01:54] I mean people should understand is look I've been following Venezuela since Trapes came into power. And I can guarantee you that the size the scope the magnitude the number of protesters that we're seeing this is something that is completely unprecedented. You literally have probably millions of people on the streets right. This is a country in which the vast majority of the population is impoverished. A lot of people are starving to death. People are fleeing the country. They are on the streets and they are saying that enough is enough and they know that they could probably die and they know their children would probably die because the government is shooting to kill protesters. But for them they don't have they just don't have another option because it's been 20 years of this corrupt socialist regime that has stolen and bankrupted their country.
Guy Benson: [00:02:39] Yeah and it's beyond repair at this point given the regime what they're doing what they're not doing. I mean it is hard to overstate the catastrophe economically that Chavez and now Maduro have inflicted upon the people of Venezuela the toadies for Maduro will say that he is the duly elected president and this is a coup by the people who are trying to overthrow him. Obviously I think the response of theU.S. government is that was not a legitimate election. Explain why.
Ana Quintana: [00:03:15] No I mean so look Chavez passed away in 2013. And Maduro was his handpicked successor right there. He anointed Maduro to follow him up. And there were you know these fraudulent elections after Chavez died to essentially anoint Maduro but the government has been in power for over a decade. They controlled all levers of power within society they controlled the Supreme Court they controlled the electoral tribunal. I mean they controlled everything. There's no such thing as checks and balances so obviously the opposition lost. And you know so fast forward to May 2000 the 18 last year when Maduro again held elections which originally were supposed to be held in December. But because the economy was doing so poorly he knew that if he held them in December there was no way he could even slightly claim that he could win. He held him in May. Again fraudulent elections there were international observers were not allowed to participate. I mean they were just terrible. So come January when he was to be inaugurated in office over 50 countries this is what people are not talking about. We're talking about the 16 countries that now recognize Guiado. What we're not talking about is over 50 countries did not recognize Maduro's re-election. So they automatically labeled him an illegitimate president. And that's why we see the actions that we're seeing in the past few days. Right when. Because according to Benfold constitution when there is no president. The head of the National Assembly is next in line of succession which is why the United States and Canada and other Latin American partners are leading democracies in the region have said enough is enough. You were not the legitimate leader we're going to recognize the head of the National Assembly.
Guy Benson: [00:04:51] And you're saying it's now up to 16 countries so there's sort of a groundswell building based on the legitimate law of the nation of Venezuela which you're explaining here. Our guest is adequate Teina from the Heritage Foundation. She's an expert in this region. So what can the U.S. do. I mean it was newsworthy when the vice president Mike Pence came out and recognized the opposition leader as the true and legitimate leader of Venezuela. And the Trump administration writ large has responded in kind and done the same thing. We've seen more people following suit. I think a lot of Americans are very happy to see this type of action on the ground. But there are always suspicious of too much American meddling so what in your opinion is the right balance to strike to support the people of Venezuela overthrowing this despotic illegitimate regime without over involving theU.S. government in this in this whole situation.
Ana Quintana: [00:05:50] You know over the last two years one area where the Trump administration has been very successful it's been on building a coalition of partners and allies throughout Latin America and in Europe that want to address the crisis in Venezuela. I mean this is something that I can tell you is unprecedented. Right. Look at Cuba for example there never existed a regional coalition to address the crisis and Cuba and the regime has been governing for over 60 years. Yet look at what's happening in Venezuela. So the Trump administration aside from its implementation of sanctions I mean we have to offer acknowledge one thing the United States is not acting alone. This is not unilateral just US involvement in this is not just the United States acting for the US's interests were the United States is operating and acting for the interests of the broader Western Hemisphere which is what the Colombians recognize the Brazilians recognize. I mean over the last two years the administration has sanctioned has implemented targeted sanctions over one hundred Venezuelan government officials. They've designated the vice president as a drug trafficking kingpin. They've seized over 500 million dollars of drug trafficking related assets from the vice president of Venezuela. The former vice president rather of Venezuela alone. I mean that's that's very significant.
Guy Benson: [00:07:05] And you know I think there's just been I think you would be it would be fair to say and characterize this. You're absolutely right to underscore the point this is not unilateralism from the United States. This is leadership from the United States. But his leadership across multilateral coalition of people who are behind and supportive of what the people of Venezuela are in the streets demanding. Give us a picture if you will I think people a lot of Americans understand things are really bad there economically there's all this inflation. People can't get everyday household goods. How how bad is it.
Ana Quintana: [00:07:43] I mean consider a situation like this in Venezuela is a country that has the most oil the most proven oil reserves in the entire world. Right it has more oil than Saudi Arabia. I mean it has more oil than any other country. And yet Venezuela right now it's estimated that about 90 percent 90 percent of Venezuelans are literally living in poverty. So you have a country the most oil rich nations get 90 percent of its people are living in poverty. Why. Because the Venezuelan government has a state run oil industry that three years ago it handed over to the military because I was the only way the government can maintain control of the upper echelons of the military and make sure that there was never a military coup against it. You had a government that's implemented as socialism in Venezuela was essentially used as a Trojan horse for these criminals and these narco traffickers to come into power. Right. They expanded the welfare state and they made it appear as though they truly cared about the welfare of the Venezuelan people.
Guy Benson: [00:08:36] Right but clearly they do not and only Socialism coupled with corruption which is often inevitable could take such a wealthy country in terms of resources and turn it into the disaster zone that it currently is. We're watching this story with great interest. Thank you so much Ana Quintana of The Heritage Foundation. We'll be right back after this.
Guy Benson: [00:08:56] You're listening to Benson & Harf .