Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro started a second term in office on Thursday, shrugging off international criticism that his reelection last year was illegitimate but facing further isolation as an economic crisis fuels a humanitarian emergency.
The country’s pro-government Supreme Court, which has largely supplanted the opposition-run Congress, swore him in following a triumphant welcome with a symphony orchestra and cheering supporters waving miniature Venezuelan flags.
The ceremony contrasted with the harsh realities that face the former bus driver turned socialist leader including growing diplomatic pressure, an economy in collapse, and an exodus of millions of citizens seeking to escape hardship.
“I swear on the legacy of Hugo Chavez… that I will meet all of my duties under the constitution,” Maduro said.
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.
But continued support from the military, a fractured opposition and a relentless crackdown on opposition critics means that Maduro appears to face few serious challenges at home, despite the international outcry.
Maduro’s first agenda item for his second term is a ceremony at Venezuela’s military academy, a telling symbol of the importance of armed forces.
Supporters, many of whom were public servants identified by T-shirts of state agencies, rallied in the center of Caracas to celebrate the new term. Some said Maduro should do more to crack down on business leaders for raising prices.
“Sometimes its hard to find food because businesses hide it and then say its the president’s fault, even though we all know that’s a lie,” said Graciela Laya, 43, a homemaker, at a rally near the Supreme Court.