Latin America Advisor

A Daily Publication of The Dialogue

Will Venezuela’s Maduro Complete His Second Term?

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was sworn in for his second six-year term on Jan. 10. // Photo: Venezuelan Government. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was sworn in for his second six-year term on Jan. 10. // Photo: Venezuelan Government.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was sworn in for a second term on Jan. 10 amid political and economic crises that have led millions of Venezuelans to flee the South American country in recent years. What can Venezuelans expect of Maduro’s new term? Will his current political and economic policies continue, and will he move to consolidate his power? Will the decision by foreign countries, including Peru and Brazil, not to recognize Maduro as a legitimate president have any practical consequences?

Michael Camilleri, director of the Peter D. Bell Rule of Law program at the Inter-American Dialogue: “On Jan. 10, Nicolás Maduro’s already weak claim to democratic legitimacy became even more tenuous. At the Organization of American States, 19 countries voted not to recognize his new presidential term as a consequence of its fraudulent origins. The opposition-held National Assembly is now quite clearly the most legitimate political entity in Venezuela, and its new leader, Juan Guaidó, has positioned himself effectively as a transitional figure. Guaidó has raised his profile with strong backing from the international community, including the United States and many Lima Group countries. And his brief detention—and subsequent release—by Venezuelan intelligence showed that the Maduro regime is split over how to handle him. Nonetheless, Maduro remains in charge of the country, and the governing regime has steadily consolidated power over two decades, initially through political persuasion and more recently via corruption, coercion and—increasingly—outright repression. So far, Maduro has commanded sufficient loyalty from the security forces to maintain his grip on power. Whether this remains the case is the subject of much speculation, and the opposition appears prepared to again test the proposition. To do so effectively, it will need to remain unified, foment regime defections, leverage Maduro’s international isolation and economic bungling, and—crucially—demonstrate that it can mobilize Venezuelans en masse. A planned protest on Jan. 23 will be a critical test of its ability to mount a serious challenge to Maduro.”

Betilde Muñoz-Pogossian, director of the Department of Social Inclusion at the Organization of American States: “Venezuela is at a critical juncture. The democratic opposition, represented at this point by Juan Guaidó, president of the National Assembly, the only democratically elected institution in Venezuela, is moving its pieces strategically and with caution. It should prepare for a very important next phase. That next phase may bring about Venezuela’s democratic transition, but there are some elements that need to align: the support of the armed forces, the retaking of control over the nation’s assets, generating the much-needed political pressure within the regime, and international support, among other factors. On this last one, however, the preceding days have proved fruitful. One clear sign this is the case is the approval on Jan. 10 of an OAS Permanent Council resolution that does not recognize the legitimacy of Nicolás Maduro’s new term, and among other things, calls for a new presidential election to be held in Venezuela with the participation of international observers as guarantors of its fairness and transparency. This is the first time that this regional community of states achieved enough votes for approval of a formal document condemning the Maduro regime. No small feat. The OAS resolution also marks the agenda for the community of democratic states in support of the Venezuelan people, and the conditions for the Maduro regime to have any sort of dialogue with fellow nations. Should these forces not align, Venezuelans and the international community can expect more of the same in terms of the economic, monetary and social policies that have caused more than three million Venezuelans to flee the country. And we would need to prepare, as the United Nations has recently estimated, to see at least two million more Venezuelans flee the country. Let’s hope this does not happen.”

Julia Buxton, professor of comparative politics at the School of Public Policy of Central European University in Budapest: “Any positives Maduro mustered from his poorly attended inauguration have reversed as momentum has built behind National Assembly head Juan Guaidó as interim president. Guaidó’s swearing in on Jan. 15 was symbolic, but for external and domestic critics, the dual executive situation serves as a mechanism to pressure Maduro and force regime change. This crisis is the logical conclusion of the risk Maduro took in convening the Constituent Assembly in 2017. Maduro has adopted a business-as-usual approach. But second-term economic plans unveiled on Jan. 14 reflect ongoing detachment from the challenges facing the country. The measures outlined (such as boosting oil production to five million barrels a day by 2025), the statistics quoted on poverty, health and oil revenue losses, and the policies introduced (a 300 percent hike in the minimum salary and a fixed rate for the petro cryptocurrency, among others) was a confection of economic illiteracy that will aggravate economic crisis if he stays in office. The situation is fluid, which is to say not conducive to reasoned negotiation over next steps. Maduro’s critics are buoyed by Guaidó’s elevation, but there are perils ahead: the move has been pushed by external actors and diaspora groups that are not in step with the domestic opposition movement or popular sentiment; social media campaigns have been prioritized over grassroots mobilization; and recognition of Guaidó as head of state by foreign actors—specifically the Trump administration—renders the interim president vulnerable to charges that he is a puppet in a U.S.-led coup. Tightening the screw, through oil sanctions for example, may exacerbate these fragilities.”

Diego Arria, member of the Advisor board, director of the Columbus Group in New York and former permanent representative of Venezuela to the United Nations: “First, as of Jan. 10, Maduro is no longer the president of Venezuela, as more than 60 countries have rejected his fraudulent election on May 20. According to Article 233 of our Constitution, the president of the National Assembly must fill that position and call for elections. The Permanent Council of the Organization of American States, the Lima Group, as well as Canada and the United States, have declared that they do not recognize the Maduro regime, and most will soon probably recognize National Assembly President Juan Guaidó as the provisional president of Venezuela. Such a situation for the first time presents a constitutional option to force out Maduro’s narco-tyrannical regime. The full pressure of the international community today is fundamental when Guaidó formally assumes his mandate as interim president of Venezuela. The behavior of the armed forces before a legitimate new president will put it to a test.”

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