Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was sworn in for a second term on Thursday amid a longstanding economic crisis and pressure from some Latin American neighbors that won’t recognize his presidency after a disputed election.
The socialist president defended his legitimacy in a speech after his swearing-in at the country’s high court in Caracas, decrying what he said was a “permanent campaign of lies” about him and his late predecessor, Hugo Chavez.
“We’re a real democracy and I, Nicolas Maduro Moros, I am a truly democratic president,” Maduro said in a televised address.
But the regional Organization of American States has said it won’t recognize his new term. The May election that returned Maduro to power was boycotted by opposition groups and largely discredited by opponents in his country, with hundreds of complaints of election violations and a low turnout.
The OAS said Thursday its member nations voted 19-6, with eight abstentions, to not recognize the legitimacy of Maduro’s government.
One of those nations, Paraguay, announced Thursday it was breaking diplomatic relations with Venezuela and closing its embassy there.
Maduro has continued the huge social welfare programs and price control policies of Chavez, who steered the country toward socialism before dying in 2013. Through nearly a decade of mismanagement, Venezuela squandered its profound oil wealth, leaving its economy in tatters and Latin America reeling from an unprecedented mass exodus of migrants in search of food and medicine.
The United Nations estimates as many as 3 million Venezuelans have fled since 2014.
The International Monetary Fund predicts inflation will hit 10 million percent in 2019. The Maduro regime continually raises the minimum wage, fueling ever more inflation, so every raise actually buys Venezuelans less and less every month.
Opposition and human rights groups have accused Maduro’s administration of holding hundreds of political prisoners on phony charges in an attempt to stifle dissent. The United Nations has said detainees are often subjected to ill treatment, and in some cases torture.
Reactions from US, EU
Maduro blames what he calls US economic terrorism for Venezuela’s misery and as recently as Wednesday declared he was battling an American-led coup to overthrow his government.
White House national security adviser John Bolton tweeted Thursday that the United States “will not recognize the Maduro dicatorship’s illegitimate inauguration.”
“We will continue to increase pressure on the corrupt regime, support the democratic National Assembly, and call for democracy and freedom in Venezuela,” Bolton’s tweet reads.
The Trump administration already has used targeted financial sanctions. The latest sanctions, announced this week by the US Treasury Department, accuse Maduro insiders of using the currency exchange market to skim millions in illicit profits.
“Our actions against this corrupt currency exchange network expose yet another deplorable practice that Venezuela regime insiders have used to benefit themselves at the expense of the Venezuelan people,” US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
The European Union, in a statement from its high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, said Thursday it regretted that its call for fresh presidential elections in Venezuela was ignored.
“The presidential elections of last May in Venezuela were neither free nor fair,” the EU statement reads.
The EU “stands ready to react through appropriate measures to decisions and actions that further undermine the democratic institutions and principles, the rule of law and human rights,” it said.
CNN’s AJ Davis and Paula Newton contributed to this report.