Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido barred from holding public office for 15 years, government says

Opposition leader Juan Guaido brushed off a new measure by the Venezuelan government that would see him barred from holding public office for 15 years.

The state comptroller Elvis Amoroso, a close ally to embattled President Nicolas Maduro, claimed Thursday the government’s decision was based on inconsistencies in Guaido’s financial records.

He said 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.

Last month, Guaido toured South American nations to drum up diplomatic support for pushing Maduro out of power, defying a travel ban imposed by the government.

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Amoroso also accused Guaido of harming the country through his interactions with foreign governments – dozens of which support the assembly leader’s claim to the head of state.

Guaido dismissed the announcement as irrelevant because, in his view, Maduro’s government is illegitimate.

The only body that can appoint a comptroller is the legitimate parliament,” he said at a rally Thursday. “We’re going to continue in the streets.”

The United States, which has backed the opposition leader and disavowed Maduro’s presidency, also dismissed the ban.

“That’s rich and ridiculous,” U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said.

Meeting in Ecuador, delegations from a group of European and Latin American countries also criticized the Venezuelan government's move.

"Such a political decision without regard to due process is yet another demonstration of the arbitrary nature of judicial procedures in the country," said the International Contact Group on Venezuela. The group says it seeks the peaceful restoration of democracy to the country.

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The ban’s immediate effect appears to be largely symbolic, as Guaido is currently the head of the congress, which Maduro’s government has refused to recognize since 2016 when the opposition took it over after a landslide victory.

Blocking candidates through the comptroller’s office has been used in the past.

A similar ruling helped cripple the political career of Leopoldo Lopez, who began leading street protests after he was barred from holding office on accusations of improper use of public funds, Reuters reported.

Two-time presidential candidate and opposition leader Henrique Capriles was also barred from holding office following a similar decision.

The power struggle between Maduro and Guaido has intensified the sense of crisis in Venezuela, which suffered its worst blackouts earlier this month and then another round of power outages that paralyzed commerce this week.

Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez said Thursday that electricity had been restored in most of the country, though some areas remained without power and experts have warned that the system is vulnerable to further disruptions.

Schools and public offices were still closed, but there was more traffic in the streets of Caracas and many people were able to make electronic payments for the first time in days.

Both the opposition and the government plan demonstrations on Saturday as they try to project resolve in a debilitating standoff in what was once one of Latin America's wealthiest countries.

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Maduro, who is backed by Russia, says he is the target of a U.S.-led coup plot and has accused Washington and Guaido of sabotaging Venezuela's power grid. Both the U.S. and the Venezuelan opposition, as well as many electricity experts, believe neglect and mismanagement are the cause of the country's electricity woes.

Venezuelan authorities this month arrested Guaido's chief of staff, Roberto Marrero, and accused him of involvement in a "terrorist" scheme to overthrow the government.