Venezuela, Juan Guaidó, and the need for new strategies
Venezuela’s political future remains uncertain, as the Guaidó administration has yet to face tough decisions that can define the country’s fate. 2020 marks another year in which the country has had to face a series of problems regarding economic decline, food and water scarcity, constant power-outages, and a new health threat: the COVID-19 pandemic. But to Venezuelans it also marks a parliamentary election year and, thus, a new chapter in the country’s political history. According to the Venezuelan Constitution, the mandate of the current National Assembly expires in 2021 and, thus, parliamentary elections should be held at the end of this ongoing year to elect a newly conformed legislative body. But the Constitution refers to free and competitive elections which, as it has been made clear over the years, are not the conditions that have characterized the Venezuelan electoral system. Nonetheless, Mr. Maduro’s regime has grasped the opportunity and is now looking forward in celebrating parliamentary elections at the end of this year, all which seems to be part of yet another grand political fraud. During the months of June and July of this year the government-controlled Supreme Court of Justice issued a series of rulings in which it unconstitutionally (a) designated new members of the National Electoral Council (CNE), all whom are former members of the government’s political party or of the same Supreme Court, (b) suspended and intervened three major political parties from the opposition (Acción Democrática, Movimiento Primero Justicia and Voluntad Popular), and (c) modified the current electoral legislation. In those same months, the newly government-appointed CNE issued new norms regarding the elections and the voting process, and announced that the parliamentary elections are to be held on December 6th, 2020. The Guaidó administration has already stated that it will not be participating in said elections, as well as different countries and international organizations have declared that they will not recognize the electoral results, whatever the outcome. So, participating in these elections should most definitely be out of the question. In my opinion, the debate shouldn’t be focusing on whether or not the opposition should participate in the referred elections, but rather on what other strategies and tactics can the opposition adopt in the following months. That said, what are the other strategies that the Venezuelan opposition can implement? Continuity of the National Assembly’s mandate and support from the U.S. As said before, the Guaidó administration’s position is not to participate in the referred elections, but rather hold that the current National Assembly should continue its mandate, thus, extending Juan Guaidó’s position as interim president. Said extension is to last until conditions of electoral integrity in Venezuela are restored and a new election of representatives can be held in a legitimate way. According to Guaidó’s former specially designated prosecutor Jose Ignacio Hernández, this strategy is not only exceptional, but also constitutional, as it finds legal coverage in article 333 of the Venezuelan Constitution. Now, despite the fact that this seems to be the more logical strategy, it brings about a few problems as well. First, the outcome of the presidential elections in the U.S. could prove very important for the development of this strategy. As it is well known, the Trump administration has been following closely the situation in Venezuela, as well as tightening oil and financial sanctions on the regime that, although useful at some point, have failed to weaken the regime, as Mr. Maduro still remains in power. So a shift in policy could serve us well at this moment. Yet, many believe that President Trump could lose the election this year against fellow contender Joe Biden. If Mr. Biden manages to win the presidency, the policy regarding Venezuela could change. Many consider that the Biden administration will abandon the cause for Venezuela, but this is not necessarily true. The recent designation of senator Kamala Harris as Biden’s VP could prove fruitful for Venezuela, as in the past she has shown support for the cause. Second, Mr. Guaidó has failed to deliver tangible results of his strategy. It’s been almost two years since he first assumed the interim presidency and yet he still lacks true political power in Venezuela, despite the international support he enjoys. This has made many of us question if truly, this is the best strategy to adopt. Third, the extension of the mandate of the current National Assembly, as well as Mr. Guaidó’s as interim president, does not have a clear democratic mandate, as it seems it will last until conditions of electoral integrity in Venezuela are restored and free and competitive elections can be held. Not having a clear mandate is also questionable. Nevertheless, Mr. Guaidó has recently claimed that in January 6th, 2021 he will be sitting in the presidential palace. Whatever the outcome of the U.S. presidential elections, Mr. Guaidó has to sit down with the next U.S. president and try to negotiate a new and more effective way of affecting the government, rather than just suffocating it through sanctions. Resuming the Oslo negotiations Another strategy that could be taken is resuming the Oslo negotiations. This is actually a solution proposed by IESA political economy professor Michael Penfold since early January of this year. According to professor Penfold, a negotiated solution is the only way forward out of this political crisis, but for the two sides to resume the talks, they will need guarantees and reassurances. As the professor expressed in an article for the Financial Times, the negotiation would require various elements ranging from the support of key nations such as the United States, Russia, China, Colombia and even the European Union, to the participation of the Venezuelan armed forces as an observer. This strategy shouldn’t be discarded easily. If applied correctly, and without making the same mistakes that were made in the past, it may well be the only way that the two sides reach common ground. But most probably that common ground will involve the pardoning of many key government figures and the granting of their freedom to continue doing politics, as was the outcome of the 2012-2016 Colombian peace talks, for which many opposition figures and even the citizenry may not be prepared to accept. The truth is Mr. Guaidó has to analyze and choose very well which course of action he will take in the following months. We know already that the extension of his mandate as interim president is his main strategy. But the question remains whether he wants to continue being a powerless president, with the same U.S. support that he has been enjoying since his appointment as interim president, or whether he wants to continue being a president with true and significant political power, which may well involve a shift in U.S. policy and the way things are being handled; shift that seems necessary if he truly wants to be sitting at the Miraflores Palace in early January of next year. For this reason, Mr. Guaidó will have to decide which kind of president he wants to be, and, whoever that president is, he might change the political fate of the country in the following months. Juan Andres Miralles is a lawyer from Universidad Catolica Andres Bello (Caracas, Venezuela) currently working in private practice and is co-editor of The Explorer. You can find him on Linkedin at Juan Andres Miralles Quintero.