Throughout 2018, the situation in Venezuela remained highly volatile. In May, snap presidential elections took place and the incumbent President, Mr Nicolás Maduro, declared victory; however, the election results were recognized neither by the opposition (which had mostly boycotted the poll) nor by a large part of the international community. On 5 August 2018, following an alleged drone attack against Maduro, a further crackdown on opposition leaders ensued. In the meantime, a report by the International Monetary Fund estimated a 1,370,000 percent inflation by the end of the year, while the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Refugees reported that 1.5 million Venezuelans had left the country since the beginning of the crisis and the number of asylum applications had spiked.
The year 2019 started with the official inauguration of Maduro’s second term as President of Venezuela, on 10 January. On 23 January, however, Mr Juan Guaidó, President of the National Assembly (the Venezuelan Parliament) and leader of the opposition, declared himself interim President of Venezuela by relying on Article 233 of the Constitution, which attributes the interim presidency to the head of the National Assembly should the President become “permanently unavailable to serve”. Venezuela thus plunged into political and institutional chaos.
On 17 April 2018, Mr Paolo Gentiloni Silveri, President of the Council of Ministers, reported before the Senate of the Republic on the developments of the situation in Syria (5th Meeting, XVII Legislature). In doing so, he also summarized the Government’s position on the airstrikes against Syria conducted by the United States, France, and the United Kingdom on 14 April 2018, presented as a response to the chemical weapons allegedly used in Douma by the Syrian army a few days before. Mr Gentiloni firstly commented upon the credibility of these allegations:
Eventually, the Joint Investigative Mechanism (which is a partnership between the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations) determined that in the last years, at least three times, the Syrian army resorted to using chlorine gas.
Moreover, it confirmed the use of nerve gas in the attack in KhanShaykhun that occurred exactly one year ago. You will recall that on that occasion there was a response by the United States. But the same body – the Joint Investigative Mechanism – determined that Daesh as well, on a couple of occasions, resorted to using chemical weapons in the Syrian context.
Popular protests have been taking place in Venezuela at least since 2014: their targets are the Government’s crackdown on civil and political liberties and the grave economic crisis afflicting the country, which has inter alia resulted in skyrocketing inflation and a persistent lack of essential goods.
In December 2015, parliamentary elections were held and won by the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), a coalition of parties opposing President Nicolás Maduro and his United Socialist Party (PSUV). In the following months, President Maduro declared the state of emergency and assumed more powers, while the MUD started to collect signatures for a referendum to remove him from office before the natural end of his term. In October 2016, however, the National Electoral Council suspended the referendum process; new demonstrations against this decision took place.