The speech marks Nicolas Maduro’s return to the world stage after his absence last year as political tumult embroiled the country.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro giving a new speech before the annual UN General Assembly's virtual summit, from Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas on September 23, 2020.
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro giving a new speech before the annual UN General Assembly's virtual summit, from Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas on September 23, 2020. (AFP)

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has blasted United States sanctions in his address to the UN General Assembly.

In a lengthy, prerecorded speech that ran more than twice the allotted time, the socialist leader denounced what he called a “criminal, inhuman aggression” by the US aimed at ousting him from power, and said Venezuela would resist.

“The world must know that we are prepared to fight with the force of our history, our spirit, reason and international law,” he said, standing before a giant portrait of South American independence hero Simón Bolivar.

The speech marks Maduro’s return to the world stage after his absence last year as political tumult embroiled the country. 

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$15 million bounty

The US, which doesn't recognise him as Venezuela’s legitimate president, has indicted him on drug charges. 

Maduro likely would have skipped this year's proceedings too, had the pandemic not forced the UN summit to go virtual.

Even though he would have UN diplomatic immunity, Maduro would be taking a risk by travelling to the US, where there is a $15 million bounty for information leading to his arrest.

The South American nation's political feud pitting Maduro against US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido frequently spills into the international arena, where the world's greatest powers have staked a claim in the country's discord. 

This year's online General Assembly offered Maduro a leg up, relegating opposition leaders who in 2019 held side events with powerful leaders further along the margins.

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Online stage

Guaido nonetheless tried to make his voice heard, releasing his own pre-recorded video in rebuttal to Maduro on social media platforms. 

Standing before four Venezuelan flags, he spoke as if addressing a room full of dignitaries, calling his statement “an act of democratic vindication” by the nation's “true representatives.”

“The dictatorial regime of Nicolas Maduro with its ties to drug trafficking and human rights violations is also usurping Venezuela's right to speak,” he said.

Though deeply unpopular, Maduro still controls every aspect of life in Venezuela. 

Guaido, though backed by influential world leaders, is increasingly powerless within the beleaguered nation, his popularity dropping as he struggles to rally more than a small crowd of supporters at recent calls for protest.

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Maduro vs Guaido

The United Nations has been providing humanitarian aid and shining a light on human rights abuses. 

The secretary general has pressed for dialogue. Though nearly 60 nations support Guaido, many UN members back Maduro.

“I do think the fact that Maduro is recognised by the majority of UN members highlights the difference between Guaidó’s democratic legitimacy and Maduro’s de facto control on the ground,” said Geoff Ramsey, a Venezuela researcher at the Washington Office on Latin America think tank. “Over time Maduro has effectively demonstrated he is the one in charge.”

Peppering his remarks with jabs at the US, Maduro noted that he recently freed several dozen prisoners, including several high-profile opposition leaders. He said he looked to peacefully resolve the country’s ills.

“It is through political, diplomatic and mutually agreed upon negotiation that we will reach the solution of this dispute inherited from imperial colonialism,” he said.

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Crime report

At no point did Maduro mention a recent scathing, in-depth report commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council that accuses his government of grisly crimes including torture and killings allegedly carried out by security forces. 

Heads of state from several neighbouring nations have used their platform at the General Assembly to denounce Maduro as an autocrat whose poor handling of his country’s oil wealth has led to a humanitarian and economic collapse.

Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra implored the UN to help find a political solution to Venezuela's crisis “before it turns into a chronic situation which nobody desires, especially the Venezuelan people who suffer from it.”

Guaido, for his part, urged UN member nations who have been silent until now to join in pressuring the Maduro government to back down.

“To those who at some point justified or supported Maduro: I want to reiterate the call to do what's right, stop human rights violations that in this instant continue, to collaborate to put an end to the terror that the egregious dictatorship intends to impose,” he said.

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Economic decline

Venezuela is in the midst of a staggering economic decline that even before the Covid-19 pandemic was considered worse than the US Great Depression. 

The Trump administration has hit the Maduro government with sanctions. 

Maduro characterised the punitive measures as an “illegal blockade” that have dealt a crippling blow but which his administration has managed to circumvent.

“It is a battle for peace, for our homeland, for the region, for humanity,” he said standing along Venezuelan and UN flags in a towering, red-carpeted room.

He also denounced the US as “the most serious threat to peace in this world.”

Online, neither Maduro nor Guaido seemed to generate wide viewership, though Venezuelans on both sides of the feud weighed in with comments that seemed to reflect a mutual exhaustion from an ordeal that has brought them few solutions.

“Give us a speech with concrete actions, please,” one man implored. “We are tired.”

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Source: AP