Latin America Advisor

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Why Is International Support Falling for Venezuela’s Guaidó?

Photo of Juan Guaidó Opposition leader Juan Guaidó won international recognition three years ago as Venezuela’s legitimate head of state, but that support has been dwindling. // File Photo: @jguaido via Twitter.

Nineteen member nations of the Organization of American States, including Peru, Chile and Argentina, on Oct. 6 supported a proposal to remove Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s envoy from the multilateral body, saying that Guaidó is not Venezuela’s head of state. Guaidó gained international recognition as the country’s interim president in 2019 after challenging President Nicolás Maduro’s re-election. However, Guaidó has seen waning support, including from the European Union, whose members last year stopped recognizing him as interim president. What has caused the dwindling support for Guaidó? What does this mean for the Venezuelan opposition’s attempts to unseat Maduro and for the future of the country’s political landscape? How much real power and influence does Guaidó have?

Abraham F. Lowenthal, founding director of the Inter-American Dialogue and the Wilson Center’s Latin American Program, and professor emeritus at the University of Southern California: “Venezuela’s long stalemate, suspended negotiations between Venezuela’s government and the opposition United Platform, and the Biden administration’s review of Venezuela policy are all entering a new phase. The U.S. and Venezuelan governments have exchanged high-profile prisoners; although the United States did so primarily for humanitarian reasons, it may become a confidence-building step. Opposition political parties will hold primary elections to choose leadership and coordinate efforts to secure fair presidential elections in 2024. Venezuela’s opposition, its government, the United States and other international actors are moving to make available more than $3 billion for humanitarian relief, drawing upon Venezuelan assets frozen in U.S. banks under U.S. sanctions policies. The Venezuelan and U.S. governments and Chevron are reportedly agreeing to facilitate Chevron’s resuming oil production and export; although controversial, this could help Venezuela, the United States and others face the medium-term results of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Venezuela’s parties, civil society and citizens generally recognize that Washington would not oust Maduro simply by exerting ‘maximum pressure,’ including U.S. military intervention. The business sector and civil society are increasingly filling the vacuum produced by Venezuela’s ineffective government and opposition. Most actors are recognizing key realities: feeble public support for both the Maduro government and the opposition Guaidó regime; political changes in neighboring countries; broad reorientation of U.S. foreign policy and the constraints of domestic politics; as well as major transformations in geopolitics and geoeconomics. To achieve peace among highly polarized Venezuelans, rebuild Venezuela’s economy and repair profound damage to Venezuela’s governance, public health and educational facilities, political parties and institutions will take time. To succeed will require effective leadership committed to inclusion, as well as coordination among opposition groups, the Norway-mediated negotiation and among several branches and agencies of the U.S. and other governments. Even so, there will be hard choices and reverses. But the path now beginning to open may help all Venezuelan factions and their international friends understand how much better it would be to negotiate enforceable arrangements and assurances than to face decades of further deterioration.”

Julia Buxton, British academy global professor at the University of Manchester: “The Trump administration corralled E.U. and OAS countries into recognizing Guaidó as ‘interim president.’ Alongside crippling sanctions, this was intended as an act of overwhelming, nonmilitary pressure on Maduro. The strategy had to achieve its goal quickly—within weeks, if not days, or it risked ending up precisely where the United States and Guaidó find themselves today—down a dead end. De jure recognition of Guaidó did not create a de facto presidency. Guaidó achieved no institutional or political authority in Venezuela, complicating bilateral affairs for countries that ceased to recognize Maduro. The opaque parallel presidency distorted Venezuela’s political conflict, in part by privileging Guaidó and his cabal as external interlocutors, but without accountability to Venezuelan civil society. Lack of oversight has been a major failing, particularly after Washington handed control of Venezuelan assets in the United States to Guaidó. Allegations of impropriety have eroded modest public support for a politician who was a nonentity until the ill-conceived parallel presidency strategy. Guaidó has made no ground over the years, straddling a divided opposition and constantly looking to leverage international rather than domestic support. Once his term as president of the National Assembly expired, there was no diplomatic justification for continued recognition by the European Union and now the OAS. The external political landscape has shifted dramatically, particularly in countries where right-of-center governments supported Guaidó. That pluralism and a dose of transparency must be embraced by the opposition if Venezuelans are to be convinced that politicians represent meaningful voice and change.”

Víctor M. Mijares, associate professor in the Department of Political Science and Global Studies at the Universidad de los Andes: “Support for Juan Guaidó has waned internationally in the face of frustration with regime change. The only one who openly wanted to force such a change was the Trump administration, which even offered guarantees to the Venezuelan military willing to overthrow Nicolás Maduro. The problem is that it was based on a poor political diagnosis of the role and power of the military in Venezuela. For 20 years, Chavismo has been undermining the military’s command, control and communications capabilities to avoid a coup like Hugo Chávez experienced in 2002. Today in Venezuela, it is not the military that supports Maduro, but rather the intelligence and counterintelligence services that control the military and harshly punish any sign of rebellion. Thus, in practical terms, Guaidó has no control over any territory or institution in Venezuela. Abroad, in Colombia, the new government of Gustavo Petro recognized Maduro. It gave him back control of Monómeros Colombo-Venezolanos, a fertilizer company of the Venezuelan state-owned Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). In Europe, the situation in Venezuela seems stagnant and of less importance given the Russian-Ukrainian War, leaving only Washington as relevant support for Guaidó. All this in a Latin American environment that is once again moving to the left, to the delight of Maduro. In the face of authoritarian resilience, the West seems to have given up hope for change. In the case of the United States, Venezuela is interested in cooperating with global energy security and assuming responsibilities regarding migration.” 

Luisa Acedo, partner at Mendoza, Palacios, Acedo, Borjas, Páez Pumar & Cía. (MENPA): “When implemented in January 2019, the case for an interim government had a logical base. Maduro’s election as president in 2018 was widely (and correctly) seen as lacking even the most elementary democratic conditions. The constitution provides that in the absence of the president of the republic, the president of the National Assembly should replace him, in certain cases and with complex legal issues and caveats. At the time, there was a political consensus on the subject, not only inside Venezuela but also abroad. However, the term of the National Assembly–which had been elected in 2015–ended five years later. So, given that the Maduro regime kept its hold on power, I can see no valid reason for the continuation of the fiction of the ‘interim government.’ In addition, the Venezuelan opposition has relied too much on the international support of certain foreign governments, which foresaw a relatively short and simple change of regime. And it did not have an alternate strategy when such change did not happen. When the failure of reaching power by means of the interim government became evident, the strategy should have been to focus on voting and winning elections. Unfortunately, there are many sectors of the disparate Venezuelan opposition that are not interested in such a strategy, including those who favor the interim government. So the opposition should keep its focus inside Venezuela but work with the help of international allies in order to achieve a more level board for the presidential election. This means that the candidate should be someone who is legally able to run, and the selection of the candidate should be made by people who are able to vote in the 2024 election.”

Steve Ellner, retired professor of the Universidad de Oriente in Venezuela and current associate managing editor of Latin American Perspectives: “Juan Guaidó’s steady loss of support within the Venezuelan opposition is the result of repeated fiascos that demonstrated a lack of political acumen: the coup attempt of April 30, 2019, the Operation Gideon invasion originating from Colombia, and the mishandling of Venezuelan companies in Colombia (Monómeros) and the United States (Citgo) that were turned over to Guaidó’s parallel government. His only remaining asset is Washington’s recognition of him as president. Actually, ever since Guaidó’s self-proclamation in January 2019, U.S. involvement in Venezuela on his behalf has only hurt the opposition. Washington’s unconditional support for Guaidó ignored the fact that the main leader of his Voluntad Popular party, Leopoldo López, always had abrasive relations with other opposition parties due to his alleged intransigence and impulsiveness. In addition, with Guaidó’s failures, an emerging opposition sector rejected positions of the four main opposition parties grouped in the G-4. The new groups, best represented by Fuerza Vecinal, which has scored impressive electoral victories, recognized the Maduro government, opposed electoral abstention and favored pragmatic solutions over regime-change tactics—positions in line with the thinking of the opposition’s base. G-4 leaders have now publicly recognized their errors, but through their new grouping, the United Platform is attempting to maintain control of the entire opposition. Furthermore, Guaidó reportedly intends to compete in the primaries slated for June 2023 to choose the opposition’s united candidate for the 2024 presidential elections. Emerging opposition leaders voice distrust of the United Platform which is calling the shots for the primaries. Washington’s continued recognition of Guaidó and its preference for the G-4 limits the possibility that the opposition can resolve its own problems without direct or indirect foreign interference.”

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