Maduro strengthens his hand as Venezuela’s opposition government crumbles
Juan Guaidó once proclaimed himself the legitimate president of Venezuela to the cheers of the crowd and acclaim from the US, Europe and much of Latin America. Four years later, the end came in silence, behind closed doors and at the hands of his own side.
Members of Venezuela’s opposition decided in an online session by a vote of 72 to 29 on December 30 to scrap Guaidó’s “interim government,” belatedly acknowledging his failure to overthrow the country’s socialist president, Nicolás Maduro. On January 4, he appointed a new leadership triumvirate of exiled legislators.
Guaidó’s political stunt, sponsored by the administration of then-US President Donald Trump, and backed with crippling economic sanctions against the Maduro government and from Venezuela the once powerful oil industry, instead became a failure of Washington’s foreign policy. The result was an exodus of refugees and the devastation of the economy of the South American nation.
“This marks the end of the US ‘maximum pressure’ strategy on Venezuela,” said Francisco Rodríguez, a professor of public affairs at the University of Denver. “The vast majority of the opposition understood that it would lead nowhere. The interim government was clearly weakening, with fewer and fewer countries supporting it.”
Now approaching a decade in power with continued backing from Russia, China, Cuba and Iran, Maduro looks stronger than ever as the next presidential election, scheduled for 2024, approaches.
“It is time for . . . a new geopolitics to redistribute power in the world,” Maduro proclaimed in a television interview earlier this year. “That war in Ukraine is part of the birth pains of a [new] world rising Have no doubt that we will be there. . . in the forefront.”
Meanwhile, the US-backed opposition is in disarray. “By overthrowing the Interim Presidency, those deputies have committed an UNCONSTITUTIONAL HISTORICAL MISTAKE that only benefits the dictatorship,” said Carlos Vecchio, who must vacate the residence of the Venezuelan embassy in Washington after the fall of the interim government put an end to it. to his role as its ambassador to the US, in a statement.
Hurt by the failure of the interim government, most of Venezuela’s opposition leaders far worse than Maduro, whose popularity has recovered somewhat as the economy emerges from a tailspin that wiped out about three-quarters of the country. gross domestic product. The IMF estimates that Venezuela’s GDP expanded 6 percent last year and forecasts similar growth in 2023, though inflation is accelerating again.
Washington is now trying to pressure Maduro to resume internationally sponsored negotiations in Mexico with the Venezuelan opposition to guarantee free and fair elections in 2024, offering the carrot of sanctions relief. Maduro’s government left the talks in October 2021 and has yet to restart formal discussions, despite an agreement to do so late last year.
Some experts believe the talks with Mexico could lead to significant change, particularly if the US, EU and Latin America keep up the pressure on Maduro.
“Given that there is finally the potential for progress in Venezuela and an increased focus on negotiations and the 2024 presidential elections, now is the time to start broadening the discussion among stakeholders inside and outside of Venezuela,” said Christopher Sabatini, Senior Research Fellow in Latin America at Chatham House.
Sabatini said that the private sector could help. “They are one of the few sectors that remain (with the exception of Cuba, China, Russia and Iran) with some tug of war with the Maduro government,” he said. “The trick is to engage them now to use it for positive results.”
Tamara Taraciuk Broner, acting Americas chief at Human Rights Watch, added a note of caution: “The Maduro government has no incentive on its own to restart negotiations,” she said. “It is extremely important that governments that want to see a democratic transition support the opposition.”
Among the few things that the Guaidó administration controlled were the assets of the Venezuelan oil industry in the US, central bank gold stored in the UK, and diplomatic buildings in Washington. His disappearance leaves them in limbo amid legal battles on both sides of the Atlantic as the Maduro government seeks to reassert control. The opposition appointed a commission on Thursday to control the assets, but it is unclear whether the courts will recognize it.
Washington granted Chevron a six-month license last November to resume pumping oil from its oil operations in Venezuela, in a bid to encourage political dialogue. Investors are hopeful that the move could herald a broader economic opening in the country. It could also improve the chances of restructuring about $60 billion of outstanding debt from the government and state oil companies, currently trading at less than 10 cents on the dollar.
But for now, the fear of being targeted by US sanctions acts as a powerful deterrent to foreign investors doing business in Caracas. “Anyone who comes to Venezuela now will find great deals,” said a lawyer in the country. “But as long as the sanctions are in place, people will think twice before committing funds.”
US officials insist that, following the Chevron move, no further sanctions will be lifted unless Maduro plays ball.
With the opposition weakened, the economy improving and the political tide in Latin America turning in their favor with the election of a new crop of left-wing leadersMaduro may feel little need to make concessions.
“Today, Maduro has no credible threats on the horizon,” said Luis Vicente León, president of the Caracas-based polling and research firm Datanálisis. “I do not expect Maduro to leave power in 2024.”