Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaido should be prosecuted for violating a ban on leaving the country and inciting violence linked to street protests, the country’s chief justice said Monday as he asked lawmakers to strip Guaido of his immunity from prosecution.
Supreme Court Justice Maikel Moreno claimed the 35-year-old lawmaker, who is the head of the opposition-held National Assembly, also received illicit funds from abroad and should face charges.
It was unclear when the pro-Maduro National Constituent Assembly will consider whether to remove Guaido's immunity, which comes because he's head of the opposition-led National Assembly.
The move comes less than a week after the state comptroller, Elvis Amoroso, a close ally to embattled President Nicolas Maduro, proposed banning Guaido from holding public office for 15 years because of inconsistencies in his financial records.
Amoroso said last week that Guaido, who declared himself interim president earlier this year, triggering a power struggle with Maduro, has taken 90 international trips without accounting for the origin of the estimated $94,000 in expenses.
Guaido defied a travel ban imposed by the government when he toured South American nations in February to drum up diplomatic support for pushing Maduro out of power.
Amoroso also accused Guaido of harming the country through his interactions with foreign governments – dozens of which support the assembly leader’s claim to be head of state.
Guaido dismissed both actions by the government because, in his view, Maduro’s government is illegitimate.
"We must unite now more than ever," said Guaido at a Caracas university earlier Monday. "We must mount the biggest demonstration so far to reject what's happening."
Venezuelan security forces have detained Guaido’s chief of staff, but have yet to move directly against Guaido, who has the support of about 50 countries in his claim to the head of state.
Since a massive power failure struck March 7, the nation has experienced near-daily blackouts and a breakdown in critical services such as running water and public transportation. All classes have been suspended for nearly a week.
At the same time, frustrated residents are increasingly unable to find water, make phone calls or access the internet. Millions of Venezuelans struggled to understand an announcement by Maduro that the nation's electricity is being rationed to combat daily blackouts.
Maduro said late Sunday that he was instituting a 30-day plan that would balance generation and transmission with consumption. He also called on Venezuelans to stay calm, but provided few details.
Maduro blames the blackouts on U.S.-directed sabotage, an allegation that Guaido routinely dismisses as the desperate talk of a government that has presided over the collapse of infrastructure in a country which was once among the wealthiest in Latin America.
On Sunday, a mass of protesters took to the streets only to be threatened by contingents of alleged government supporters known as "colectivos" who appeared on motorbikes and quickly dispersed them. Videos posted on social media showed armed men opening fire to drive residents inside.
Many Venezuelans have apparently resigned themselves to a bleak reality.
"I haven't had water at home for 15 days," said Maria Rojas, a 57-year-old homemaker looking for a source to fill her jugs. "You try to find water in the street that is more or less safe to drink."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.