Leader of Venezuela Congress says he is prepared to assume presidency

Juan Guaido, President of the Venezuelan National Assembly and lawmaker of the opposition party Popular Will (Voluntad Popular), speaks during a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela January 10, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 12 January 2019
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Leader of Venezuela Congress says he is prepared to assume presidency

  • The country’s constitution says a presidential vacancy can be filled by the head of the legislature, and some opposition activists have called on Guaido to assume the presidency

CARACAS: The leader of Venezuela’s opposition-led congress said on Friday he was prepared to assume the country’s presidency on an interim basis and call elections, just one day after leftist President Nicolas Maduro was sworn in for a disputed second term.
Juan Guaido, a lawmaker from the hard-line Popular Will opposition party who was elected to head the National Assembly on Jan. 5, said he would only take office with support of the armed forces. He also called for protests on Jan. 23, the anniversary of the fall of a military dictatorship in 1958.
“It should be the people of Venezuela, the armed forces, and the international community that give us a clear mandate to assume” the presidency, Guaido said in a speech to supporters outside the United Nations (UN) program office in Caracas.
Maduro was re-elected last year in a vote that was widely dismissed as fraudulent, and countries around the world have called his continued leadership illegitimate. Ruling Socialist Party leaders have described the criticism as colonialist interference led by the United States.
The Supreme Court and an all-powerful legislature called the Constituent Assembly have stripped Congress of its powers, meaning it does not have the capacity to remove the president as would a legislature in many countries.
Guaido’s comments, however, caused some confusion.
Luis Almagro, head of regional diplomatic group the Organization of American States, tweeted that Guaido had assumed the interim presidency of Venezuela. Guaido did not respond to a message seeking clarification.
The country’s perennially fractured opposition has made numerous failed attempts over the past 20 years to remove the ruling socialists. Now, opposition leaders have disavowed Maduro’s second term as illegitimate, and have called for the National Assembly to declare the presidency vacant.
The country’s constitution says a presidential vacancy can be filled by the head of the legislature, and some opposition activists have called on Guaido to assume the presidency.
Maduro’s allies were quick to denounce Guaido. Prisons Minister Iris Varela appeared to threaten to jail him, although she has previously threatened other opposition members who remain free. “Guaido, I already got your cell ready, with your uniform,” Varela wrote on Twitter.
The opposition has promised to keep up the pressure. Some 2,000 people gathered outside the UN site listening to opposition lawmakers and civil society leaders denounce Maduro as a “usurper.”
” is the only legitimate power that we have,” said Servando Valecillos, a 67-year-old salesman and one of the protesters.
Maduro’s critics accuse him of creating a dictatorship and destroying the OPEC nation’s economy.
Venezuela is experiencing the worst economic crisis in its history, with inflation headed toward 2 million percent. Some three million people have left the country amid chronic shortages of food and medicine.
Maduro says the country is victim of an “economic war” led by his political adversaries with the help of Washington.


US women detained for speaking Spanish sue border agency

In this Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, photo provided by the ACLU of Montana, Martha Hernandez, left, and Ana Suda pose in front of a convenience store in Havre, Mont., where they say they were detained by a U.S Border Patrol agent for speaking Spanish last year. (AP)
Updated 29 min 23 sec ago
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US women detained for speaking Spanish sue border agency

  • The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday filed suit against US Customs and Border Protection on behalf of the women, who live in Havre

LOS ANGELES: Two US women detained by a border patrol agent in the state of Montana after he heard them speaking Spanish in a grocery store have sued the country’s border protection agency.
Video of the incident — which took place last May in the small town of Havre — showed Agent Paul O’Neal tell Ana Suda and Martha Hernandez that he had asked to see their identification as it was unusual to hear Spanish speakers in the state, which borders Canada.
“It has to do with you guys speaking Spanish in the store in a state where it’s predominately English speaking,” he said.
“It’s not illegal, it’s just very unheard of up here,” he told the women.
The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday filed suit against US Customs and Border Protection on behalf of the women, who live in Havre.
Suda and Hernandez say in the lawsuit that O’Neal detained them for 40 minutes.
California native Hernandez and Suda, who was born in Texas, said they were standing in line to buy milk and eggs when the agent — who was standing behind them — commented on Hernandez’s accent, and asked the women where they were born.
“I asked, ‘Are you serious’?” Suda said, according to the lawsuit. “Agent O’Neal responded that he was ‘dead serious’.”
The two women say they were then asked to show identification and questioned outside the store, before eventually being released.
“The incident itself is part of a broader pattern that we’ve seen of abusive tactics by border patrol which has gotten worse since the Trump administration, which has left border patrol officers feeling emboldened to take actions like this,” Cody Wofsy, an attorney with the ACLU, told AFP.
“This has been devastating for (Suda and Hernandez),” he added.
“Havre is a small town, they felt ostracized and humiliated and made to feel unwelcome in their own town and in their own country.”
He noted the United States has no official language, with Spanish by far the most common language spoken after English.
A Customs and Border Protection spokesman declined to comment on the case.
“As a matter of policy, US Customs and Border Protection does not comment on pending litigation,” he told AFP in a statement. “However, lack of comment should not be construed as agreement or stipulation with any of the allegations.”