Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Thursday began a new term with the economy in ruins and his regime more isolated than ever as regional leaders declared his re-election illegitimate and shunned his inauguration.
The 56-year-old socialist leader was sworn in by Venezuelan Supreme Court President Maikel Moreno as an audience of hundreds, including a handful of South American leftist leaders and Venezuela’s military top brass, cheered and applauded.
“I swear on behalf of the people of Venezuela ... I swear on my life,” Maduro said solemnly as he took the oath of office for a second six-year term.
After donning the presidential sash — as well as a ceremonial gold chain bearing the key to the sarcophagus containing the remains of Venezuelan revolutionary leader Simon Bolivar — an ebullient Maduro turned to salute the crowd with a “V” sign.
Maduro was re-elected in May last year in an election boycotted by the majority of the opposition and dismissed as fraudulent by the US, EU and Organization of American States (OAS).
“The US will not recognize the Maduro dictatorship’s illegitimate inauguration,” US National Security Advisor John Bolton tweeted Thursday.
Canada slammed Maduro for transforming his country into a “fully entrenched dictatorship.”
In a special session in Washington, the OAS similarly backed a resolution declaring Maduro’s government illegitimate.
“Venezuela is the center of a world war with US imperialism and its satellite governments,” the socialist leader retorted in a rambling speech that lasted for about two hours.
He also demanded “respect” from the EU, accusing the union of “old colonialism” and “old racism” after it on Thursday said that Maduro “lacked any credibility.”
A smiling Maduro arrived at the Supreme Court building serenaded by a choir singing patriotic songs. He blew kisses at a welcoming party of children waving Venezuelan flags and saluted supporters looking down from the building’s multi-tiered galleries.
With the exception of Mexico, the Lima Group — made up of 14 mostly Latin American countries — has urged Maduro to renounce his second term and deliver power to parliament.
Lima Group member Paraguay announced immediately after the ceremony that it was breaking off diplomatic relations with Venezuela, while Peru branded it a “dictatorship.”
Leftist presidents Miguel Diaz-Canel of Cuba, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Salvador Sanchez Ceren of El Salvador and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua were present for the inauguration ceremony, as were representatives of Russia, China and Turkey. Mexico sent a low-level diplomat.
A former bus driver and union leader, Maduro is the handpicked successor of former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.
Maduro has gained control of virtually all of Venezuela’s political institutions and enjoys the support of the military, but his first term saw an exodus of millions of people escaping an economic meltdown.
The UN has said that more than 5 million will have fled by the end of this year.
The IMF predicts that Venezuela’s economy will shrink by 5 percent next year, with inflation — which reached 1.35 million percent last year — hitting a staggering 10 million percent.
The ceremony took place in the Supreme Court rather than the sidelined, opposition-controlled parliament, which has refused to recognize Maduro.
Instead, in a statement on Thursday the parliament called on the army, Maduro’s bedrock, to formally disavow the president.
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