Will Venezuela’s Maduro prevail in the end?


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THE situation on the ground today in Venezuela, particularly from a humanitarian standpoint, is nothing short of dire. Politically speaking, it looks like another period of intense turbulence is about to descend upon the country.

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THE situation on the ground today in Venezuela, particularly from a humanitarian standpoint, is nothing short of dire. Politically speaking, it looks like another period of intense turbulence is about to descend upon the country.

Evidently, Juan Guaidó — the erstwhile head of Venezuela’s interim government — has fallen out of favour. Notwithstanding his desire to stay on for another year, he has now been stripped of his interim leader status by opposition deputies from three political parties in Venezuela’s National Assembly.

For the opposition parties, the interim government experiment no longer served a viable purpose. “With the reform of the statutes that governs the transition to democracy, the protection of the assets abroad of the Venezuelan state are guaranteed. These will never reach the hands of the regime. We have verified it with our international allies,” they stated in a letter. They believe a new political vehicle is needed to take on the government of Nicolás Maduro.

Opposition political party deputies, then, voted overwhelmingly, by a margin of 72 to 29, to replace Guaidó with a committee of lawmakers. It remains to be seen, though, how the international community will react to the idea of a Venezuelan committee of opposition legislators.

Nevertheless, this move would essentially terminate the “interim government” label and Guaidó’s purported leadership role. Members of the committee would now take over the task of seeking democratic reforms in Venezuela and managing, via appointments to a board of directors, the country’s overseas oil (the three Citgo crude refineries in the U.S.) and financial assets, which were formerly controlled by Guaidó.

At one time, Guaidó was received by the U.S. as a formal head of government of Venezuela. That does not appear to be the case any longer.

Guaidó has apparently ruffled some feathers in Washington by privately disagreeing with U.S. President Joe Biden’s willingness to unwind economic sanctions against Maduro’s Venezuela. More importantly, Biden has likely come to the conclusion Guaidó is not the right person to lead any high-level political negotiations in Mexico between Maduro’s representatives and the opposition in the run-up to Venezuela’s 2024 presidential elections.

For all intents and purposes, the Biden White House has ditched its commitment to Guaidó’s interim president status. While it has not exactly come out and said so directly, Biden’s administration has effectively lost faith in Guaidó and showed no signs of backing his presidential aspirations.

In a telling statement in mid-December, a U.S. National Security Council spokesperson remarked, “The United States will continue to support Venezuela’s democratic opposition, the democratically elected National Assembly, and the interim government, regardless of what form it takes.”

Control of Citgo in the U.S., however, could resort back to the Maduro government now that the interim government status no longer exists. This, in turn, removes one lever official Washington had to modify the behaviour and actions of Maduro.

It will only be a matter of time before Canada, once a leading supporter of Guaidó in 2019 (along with almost 60 other countries), will also have to follow suit. There is just no way the Trudeau government — and especially Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland — can stand behind someone whose political star has faded so badly.

European governments have, moreover, all but given up on recognizing his head-of-interim-government standing. Indeed, Guaidó doesn’t even have electoral legitimacy in the eyes of the Venezuelan people.

Interestingly, Guaidó was once a key plank in a U.S. strategy to remove Venezuela’s Maduro from power. But even efforts by the Donald Trump White House to forcibly oust Maduro failed miserably.

Part of the problem was that Guaidó was unable to wield any real power or influence inside Venezuela — that is, over the economy or governmental institutions. Nor was he able to galvanize disgruntled Venezuelans to force Maduro’s hand and to compel him to resign.

True to form, internal power struggles, internecine political rivalries and petty individual slights have hobbled Guaidó’s standing. There has also been a whisper campaign that Guaidó had mishandled Venezuela’s overseas financial resources.

In addition, recently elected leaders in Colombia, Chile and Peru — all of a leftist political persuasion — are gradually moving to re-establish more formal relations with the Maduro government. One would expect Brazil’s new left-leaning president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, will also distance himself politically and ideologically from Guaidó.

While it is uncertain what will come of the opposition committee of lawmakers concept, you can be sure both Maduro and Guaidó will likely contest Venezuela’s elections in 2024. Given the opposition’s past track record, however, it’s hard to imagine it can get its act together, without first tearing itself apart, for the 2024 electoral contest.

After all that has transpired over the last five or six years, Venezuela may very well end up where it started in 2018 — namely, with Maduro once again at the helm in two years.

Peter McKenna is professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown.

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