Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro begins a second term in office on Thursday in defiance of international criticism that his reelection last year was illegitimate, further isolating the South American country where an economic crisis is fueling a humanitarian emergency.
Leaders from the ruling Socialist Party have disavowed criticism of Maduro’s inauguration, which will keep him at the helm of the OPEC oil exporter until 2025, calling for rallies of support and promoting him on social media with Twitter hashtags such as #Iampresident.
Opposition leaders, however, have portrayed Thursday’s inauguration as the moment at which Maduro will be internationally branded a dictator following a widely boycotted 2018 election that governments around the world described as a farce.
But continued support from the military, a chronically fractured opposition and a relentless crackdown on opposition critics means that Maduro appears to face few serious challenges at home, despite the international outcry.
“They’ve tried to turn a constitutional swearing-in ceremony into a world war,” Maduro said during a press conference on Wednesday afternoon. “But whether there’s rain, thunder or lightning, we’re going to triumph.”
The ceremony is scheduled for 10 a.m. local time (1400 GMT) on Thursday.
Maduro’s triumphalism echoes that of his predecessor, late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, who used abundant oil revenues to flood Venezuela with consumer goods while providing heavily subsidized food and medicine.
That contrasts sharply with the Venezuela of today.
Inflation is fast approaching 2 million percent, leaving a monthly minimum wage worth less than a carton of eggs. Some three million people have emigrated since 2015 - many on foot - to escape rising malnutrition and disease, according to the United Nations.
Bank notes that once paid for months’ worth of groceries are now tossed in trash cans, piled into useless stacks or even woven into multi-colored women’s handbags sold by street merchants.
Maduro last year won reelection despite the economic chaos in large part because the opposition boycotted the vote, in which Socialist Party activists openly made payments to voters within a stone’s throw of polling stations.