Opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, is attacked at an airport during his refusal to comply with the country’s new travel ban; Guaidó’s uncle detained under suspicion of harboring illegal explosives.
By Jack Wyner
Feb. 14, 2020 at 1:30 p.m. EST
The ongoing struggle over Venezuela’s leadership has once again become a subject of international focus following opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s global tour to gain Western support. Continuing his efforts to oust President Maduro, Guaidó defied the recently leveled travel ban in order to meet with, among others, U.S. President Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Smith 2020).
Despite gaining the recognition of President Trump and others as the legitimate president of Venezuela, Guaidó’s supporters have recently expressed hesitancy about his promises of swift change as Venezuelan’s continue to lack access to basic needs like water and electricity (Faiola 2020). The Maduro regime has begun tapping into new revenue streams like gold mining and drug trafficking in order to keep the regime afloat (Stott 2020).
President Maduro has also expressed a newfound willingness to reform longstanding elements of Venezuela’s government. Engaging in “dollarization and freer trade,” for example, has in part allowed the Maduro regime to announce initiatives like adopting a new public bus system with expanded routes (Smith 2020). Meanwhile, Guaidó has seen his popularity fall in recent polls (Faiola 2020).
Part of the reason Guaidó has received much international recognition as the legitimate president of Venezuela relates to his accusation of fraud in the 2018 election. President Maduro, to his credit, seems to recognize the political risk associated with being viewed as elected through illegitimate elections: he has publically invited the United Nations, European Union, and “several Latin American countries such as Mexico, Argentina, and Panama” to observe this year’s parliamentary elections (Ilhan 2020).
Whatever negative that can be said about President Maduro’s performance as president should not blind the international community from his political brilliance. As he maintains tight control over Venezuela’s parliament, President Maduro knows he will likely win the majority of seats in the upcoming election. With little reason to engage in election meddling, therefore, Maduro has smartly tapped into the legitimacy associated with international organizations. With virtually no risk involved, he can fight back against Guaidó’s narrative of having a monopoly on Western support.
Just two days ago, in somewhat of a surprising move, the Maduro regime arrested Guaidó’s uncle—Juan José Márquez—claiming that he “had been hiding C4 explosives inside a vest” (Zuñiga & Faiola 2020). While the truth of these accusations remains unclear, the timing of such an arrest combined with the proximity of Márquez to the opposition campaign suggests that this, too, may have been a political maneuver carried out by the Maduro regime. He has responded to very few of Guaidó’s criticisms publically, instead telling his supporters to “not be distracted by ‘idiots’ and ‘traitors’” (Smith 2020).
As we saw in Cory Booker’s documentary, “Street Fight,” campaigning against an incumbent can prove highly difficult—especially when there are forces of corruption and coercion present which can be levied at any moment. Even when Senator Booker cited facts about how poorly the community has performed under the leadership of his opponent, even when faced with fairly blatant examples of campaign malpractice from his opponent, it remains extremely difficult to sell promises to a group of people who have suffered.
Venezuelan’s have seen a collapse in oil production cripple their economy with hyperinflation for roughly two decades (Stott 2020). Additionally, Venezuelans have seen their home country become the subject of an international chess war since before the 20th century. A common theme in situations like Venezuela’s at present is for the citizenry to experience what’s called voter fatigue. Continued poor conditions have rendered the people skeptical to promises which, after so much time, seem wildly unrealistic. Voter fatigue, perhaps, could explain part of Guaidó’s recent dip in popularity.
It also appears that the Maduro regime has recently done a better job of countering Guaidó’s Western support by becoming incrementally more capitalist and adopting a new willingness to have their elections monitored by outside sources. Beyond building up his own legitimacy, President Maduro has undercut much of the lure that Guaidó has to offer. If Guaidó’s big promises are already being undertaken by the current Maduro regime, what immediate reason could there be for urgent change? Maduro must at least make it appear that his regime is capitulating to some of the opposition demands for him to secure continued rule.
With parliamentary elections in the near future and presidential elections not too far ahead, either, we can reasonably predict that this week’s violence and personal political attacks will increase in quantity and severity. International stakeholders will likely be forced to pay even more attention to Venezuela in the lead up to these elections. If Venezuela truly is at a crisis point, what hope is there for resolution?
Guaidó’s continued adamancy
for fresh presidential elections will likely remain as long as he continues to
receive the support of Western powers. The Maduro regime similarly has offered
no indication that it would be willing to relinquish power. Michael Stott of
the Washington Post relays one possible solution:
Juan Manuel Santos, the former president of Colombia, recalled the successful mediation which ended the civil war in the 1980s between Nicaragua’s Sandinista revolutionary government and the US-backed contra forces: “For Venezuela, we need a peaceful negotiation solution with all the stakeholders, like the one which led to Daniel Ortega’s first exit in Nicaragua,” he said.
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Jan. 19, 2020. Accessed Feb. 13, 2020.
Faiola, Anthony and DeYoung, Karen. “In the U.S. embargo on Venezuelan oil,
Russia is a clear winner.” The Washington Post, Feb. 6, 2020. Accessed
Ilhan, Lokman. “Venezuela invites UN to observe parliamentary elections.”
Anadolu Agency, Jan. 24, 2020. Accessed Feb. 13, 2020.
Smith, Scott. “Energized Guaidó returns to Venezuela, vowing move forward.”
Washington Post, Feb. 12,
2020. Accessed Feb. 13, 2020.
Stott, Michael. “Time is running out for Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan
The Financial Times, Feb. 3, 2020. Accessed Feb. 13, 2020.
Zuñiga, Mariana and Faiola, Anthony. “Venezuelan government detains
uncle; opposition holds Maduro responsible.” The Washington Post, Feb.
12, 2020. Accessed Feb. 13, 2020.