On December 31, the Venezuelan opposition voted to end the interim government of President Juan Guaidó. Guaidó was considered the legitimate leader of Venezuela by dozens of countries, including the US and the EU. Nevertheless, he has not been able to oust authoritarian socialist President Nicolás Maduro, who continues to hold power in the South American country.
Following the 2018 elections, in which current Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro officially won a majority, a constitutional crisis began in Venezuela. The opposition united against the regime, and the Venezuelan Parliament declared the elections null and void on the grounds of electoral fraud. The then Speaker of Parliament, Juan Guaidó, was declared interim President of Venezuela, in accordance with the Constitution and with the support of Parliament. Massive anti-Maduro demonstrations broke out in the country, and almost 60 countries, including the EU and the US, gradually recognised Guaidó as the legitimate President. However, Maduro’s government has successfully weathered the protests and retained control of the country. The US, under the leadership of Donald Trump, has therefore imposed harsh sanctions on Venezuela. The combination of sanctions and the economic incompetence of the government have caused a widespread humanitarian crisis in the country. There is an acute shortage of food, healthcare and security in Venezuela. Crime, malnutrition and morbidity have reached unprecedented levels. As of 2019, ¼ of the population has fled Venezuela, a significant portion to the US.
However, the Maduro regime’s position began to improve considerably in 2022, when it was gradually recognised as legitimate by several South American countries such as Bolivia, Peru and Colombia. The domestic opposition parliament proved to be toothless and lost almost all support among the Venezuelan population. In the talks between the government and the opposition, a compromise was reached whereby the Venezuelan Government’s investments in foreign banks were unfrozen and redirected to the United Nations for humanitarian purposes in Venezuela. Maduro scored another international victory when, in November 2022, the US granted a license to Chevron to expand oil production in Venezuela, making clear Washington’s willingness to ease sanctions.
The aforementioned dismissal of the interim government of Juan Guaidó came in response to the recent setbacks of the Venezuelan opposition. The opposition’s priority in its negotiations with the regime was to secure fair conditions for the country’s presidential elections scheduled for 2024, but the Maduro government has received the unfreezing of investment, international support and sanctions relief without giving any enforceable promises regarding the elections. It is not surprising, therefore, that the opposition parliament is trying to take a different path. The dismissal of the government and of Guaidó as President is the result of this intention.
The Maduro regime has had a very successful 2022 and is likely to have an even more successful 2023. The new US administration is prioritising the containment of China and Russia and is losing interest in South America. At the same time, it urgently needs to address the energy crisis that essentially caused the Democratic Party to lose the November elections for the House of Representatives. The reintegration of Venezuela, which has the world’s largest oil deposits, into the world economy would significantly reduce the global price of oil. But the US is unwilling to give up its ally, the Venezuelan opposition, for the sake of integrity without the Maduro government making at least superficial concessions. Despite Guaidó’s dismissal, the Venezuelan opposition holds no more trump cards and is likely to grow increasingly weak and give way to the Maduro regime. This will allow the US to ease further sanctions on Venezuela, which will then rejoin the international oil market. The result will be a slow end to the humanitarian crisis in the country, which will increase the regime’s popularity. Fair conditions for the 2024 elections will almost certainly not be won, and the result will be a victory for the Maduro regime. Defeat in the parliamentary elections is likely to finally bury the Venezuelan opposition, which will either dissolve or become irrelevant.
Photo credit: Flickr.com – Trump White House Archive