Venezuelan politician President Donald Trump, who has backed the impeachment and replacement of that country’s dictator, is on the verge of losing his position of power – making it harder for him to claim his leadership and place a stake at the heart of one of the Trump administration’s signature foreign policies.
In January 2019, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared himself the legitimate president of the country. He argued that President Nicolás Maduro, who has been in power for seven years, rigged the 2018 presidential election which kept him in charge and that, therefore, Guaidó, as head of the National Assembly, was the country’s legitimate acting president according to the country’s constitution.
The United States and more than 50 other countries backed Guaidó’s claim and have since worked to help him deport Maduro once and for all. They’ve sanctioned politicians and businesses, sent much-needed food and medical aid, and helped support a global campaign to support Guaidó and increase his popularity.
But despite the two-year push, Guaidó remained in the National Assembly and Maduro in the president’s mansion. But on Sunday, only Maduro will probably be able to stay where he is.
Venezuelans will go to the polls on Sunday to vote in the country’s National Assembly elections, where they will determine the 277 people to represent them from January 5.
But Guaidó and his opposition faction are boycotting the polls because they say the elections are rigged.
They have a strong argument, especially since international observers European Union and the United Nations will not watch. Additionally, government security forces have barred the opposition from entering the Legislative Palace to participate in National Assembly sessions since January – just as the body was due to re-elect Guaidó as its head. Since then, Guaidó and his allies have stood firm parallel sessions of parliament outside the institution.
Even if they are right – and polls indicate that many Venezuelans agree with their claims – it still means that Guaidó and his faction will likely lose their seats in the next National Assembly. This would deal a blow to the opposition and give Maduro a significant victory.
“The future of the Guaidó project looks bleak,” said David Smilde, a Venezuelan expert in the Washington office on the Latin America human rights group. “There is less international consensus on the status of Guaidó’s application for the interim presidency after January 5.”
“It is likely that he will maintain his support, but it will be less robust, and the whole question of Venezuela will be put on the back burner in the United States and the EU,” he continued. “The next two months will likely see a deterioration in Guaidó’s position which will lead to a slow degradation of his power and a slow consolidation for Maduro in 2021.”
National Assembly vote could solidify Maduro’s grip on Venezuela
Sunday’s likely rigged election will represent a huge loss to what remains of Venezuelan democracy and effectively complete Maduro’s authoritarian takeover of the economically devastated nation.
The National Assembly vote in December 2015 was considered the last legitimate election in the country. Since then, Maduro has increasingly put the nation’s government under his boot, and he is now on the verge of claiming his final prize. With the Venezuelan legislature filled with the dictator’s cronies, Maduro will have subverted the entire government to his will.
Guaidó will still have some ability to retaliate. President elect Joe biden and leaders of other countries have vowed to support his cause, and he controls much of the country’s financial assets, including the Venezuelan Central Bank Accounts in the United States, the oil company Citgo, and gold at the Bank of England.
The problem, experts say, is that this influence is more external than internal. Once officially out of the National Assembly, Guaidó and his allies will not be able to stop the contracts and agreements Maduro wants to sign with world powers like China and Russia for resource extraction or laws Maduro wants to pass that could reduce civil society and pro-democracy groups, experts say.
Maduro has therefore found a way to secure his reign over the past few years. And after Sunday, his seat on the throne will almost surely be assured.