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Venezuela's Maduro starts new term as U.S. decries him as 'usurper'
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Venezuela's Maduro starts new term as U.S. decries him as 'usurper'

CARACAS, January 11 ------ Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro started a second term on Thursday, defying critics in the United States and Latin America who called him an illegitimate usurper of a nation where economic chaos has wrought a humanitarian crisis. The country’s pro-government Supreme Court, which has largely supplanted the opposition-run Congress, swore him in following a welcome with a symphony orchestra and cheering supporters waving miniature yellow, blue and red Venezuelan flags.

The ceremony contrasted with the harsh realities that face the former bus driver turned socialist leader, including hyperinflation, severe food and medicine shortages and an exodus of millions of citizens. Before he had even completed his inaugural speech, the United States decried a “usurpation of power,” and Paraguay announced it was cutting diplomatic ties - highlighting the growing isolation that Maduro will face.

“A new world has risen up that refuses to be controlled by the imperial and hegemonic orders of a single nation or its satellite countries,” Maduro said following his swearing-in. “That’s the rallying cry of our revolution to the peoples and governments of the world.” Supreme Court Chief Maikel Moreno dedicated nearly 20 minutes to explaining why Maduro was not being sworn in by Congress, which the ruling Socialist Party has systematically ignored since the opposition took control of the body in 2016.

Opposition leaders have portrayed the inauguration as the moment at which Maduro will be internationally branded a dictator, following a widely boycotted 2018 election that many foreign governments described as a farce. “We call on the armed forces, the majority of men and women in uniform who refuse to be corrupted, to step forward,” said Congress chief Juan Guaido at a news conference. “We must disavow that which was not the result of a popular vote.” But Maduro continues to enjoy consistent support from the armed forces, leaving him with few serious challenges at home despite the international outcry.

That support was on display on Thursday afternoon during a ceremony at Venezuela’s military academy in Caracas. Flanked by the military’s top commanders, Maduro strolled through a courtyard filled with thousands of uniformed troops. “Loyalty always, betrayal never,” said Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino, shortly before handing Maduro a replica of the sword of Venezuelan liberation hero Rafael Urdaneta. The Washington Post on Wednesday reported that Padrino had told Maduro to step down last month and said he would offer his own resignation if he did not.