- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Venezuelan opposition leader and U.S.-backed interim President Juan Guaidó is vowing to fight on, even as the government of President Nicolas Maduro has stripped him of his parliamentary immunity and set the stage for his potential arrest.

“We will not change our path,” Mr. Guaidó told a crowd in Caracas after Maduro loyalists on the nation’s Constituent Assembly pushed through a motion paving the way for Mr. Guaidó’s possible prosecution on allegations he violated the constitution by declaring himself interim president in January.

While Mr. Guaidó, 35, was defiant in his remarks on Tuesday night, he also said he knows he now runs the risk of being “kidnapped” by the Maduro government, The Associated Press reported. It remains to be seen whether Mr. Maduro, who has garnered support from Russia to maintain his hold on power, will order Mr. Guaidó’s arrest.

The developments come amid rolling electricity outages and spreading social disarray in Venezuela, where fears of a civil war between the Guaidó-aligned opposition and Maduro loyalists in the nation’s military have mounted in recent weeks.

More than 50 nations, as well as the Organization of American States, have recognized Mr. Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader since he made global headlines in January by announcing himself as interim president and launching a campaign to drive Mr. Maduro from power.

Mr. Maduro, who succeeded the late socialist leader Hugo Chavez in 2013 as president of Venezuela, has been accused by critics and human rights groups of viciously jailing opposition figures and fomenting an economic meltdown in the oil-rich nation amid relatively low global oil prices in recent years.

China, Turkey and Cuba are among a handful of countries now supporting Mr. Maduro, with Russia emerging as his biggest backer. Two Russian air force planes landed at Venezuela’s main airport last week carrying a Russian defense official and nearly 100 troops, according to media reports cited by Reuters, which pointed to strengthening ties between Caracas and Moscow.

The Trump administration has threatened the Maduro government with a strong response if Mr. Guaidó is arrested. Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican and an advocate of regime change in Caracas, said ahead of Tuesday’s developments that nations recognizing Mr. Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader should take any attempt by the Maduro government to “abduct” him as a coup.

“And anyone who cooperates with this should be treated as a coup plotter & dealt with accordingly,” Mr. Rubio said on Twitter.

On voting to strip Mr. Guaidó’s immunity, Constituent Assembly President and socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello accused Guaidó supporters of naively inviting a foreign invasion and of inciting a civil war.

“They don’t care about the deaths,” Mr. Cabello said, the AP reported. “They don’t have the slightest idea … what the consequences of war are for a country.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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