And so it ended. Not with a bang, but with a whimper. After all, it was made of cardboard.
It is very rare to have a political phenomenon beautifully encapsulated in a single moment or image. But in the case of (former) self-proclaimed “Interim President” Juan Guaidó, we got exactly that.
On November 22, 2021, the Obama knockoff politician was giving a press conference in a fancy-looking set, with plenty of flags and a little podium. As he trudged along his nonsense something magical happened: the presidential shield behind him fell to the floor. It was made of cardboard.
For all the absurdity that preceded and followed this episode, this will be Guaidó’s defining moment. Last week, his opposition allies finally had enough and decided to end the “interim government.”
Looking the part
There is an old British sitcom called “Keeping Up Appearances” which revolves around the efforts of a suburban middle-class woman to look important and impress upper-class people. Among other things, she insists that her last name, “Bucket,” be pronounced “bouquet.”
This was more or less the scene at the event that saw Guaidó ousted. While those present thought of it as a “National Assembly session to vote on a reform of the ‘Transition Statute’” there was a lot to unpack.
This National Assembly was elected in December 2015 and had its term run out in January 2021. The “Transition Statute,” from where the “interim government” was axed, is an absurd text rejecting several electoral processes (that the opposition boycotted) and giving this expired parliament the possibility of extending its own mandate indefinitely.
In summary, this was a bunch of well-off people on a Zoom call pretending to hold a parliamentary session. There was a lot of protocol, yet unserious moments abounded. Like a (former) deputy connecting from her kitchen with what looked like her maid cleaning things behind her.
As for the session, it was remarkably bad-blooded. It was clear from the off that the three main opposition parties (Democratic Action (AD), Justice First (PJ) and A New Era (UNT)) had the votes and just wanted to get it over with. Guaidó responded by trying to outlive his opponents, or simply making them waste time out of pettiness, with a seven-hour-plus meeting.
The marathon was mostly filled by far-right buffoons painting the disappearance of an imaginary “interim government” as the greatest tragedy Venezuela has faced as an independent republic. Acolytes lined up to praise Guaidó and call him “president.” One even brought up a Latin quote about the Catiline conspiracy against the Roman Senate in 63 B.C. to cap the absurdity of proceedings.
Follow the money
The argument brought up by Guaidó and loyalists, both leading up to the fateful meeting and during it, had to do with the alleged “unconstitutional” nature of what his backers-turned-opponents were doing. In this worldview, the “interim government” is a constitutional requirement. Some random judges who call themselves the LEGITIMATE Supreme Court also submitted a typo-filled document on Twitter backing this up.
So much so that the now former self-proclaimed “interim president” seems unwilling to accept his fate and claims he will continue fulfilling his “constitutional duties” on the streets.
Needless to say, there is nothing in the Venezuelan Constitution remotely related to these shenanigans (see screenshot below). Ending the experiment was just as arbitrary as creating it in the first place. The only entity that had to approve it was the US government (more below).
So why did the opposition factions decide now was the time to get rid of Guaidó? There are a few million reasons for that. First of all, it was always an embarrassment that larger parties had to fall in line and support this relatively obscure figure. Not only did they have to tolerate the absurd infomercials and the failed promises, they also had to watch Guaidó go to the White House and be fêted in Congress. The Venezuelan opposition equivalent of Disney World.
But beyond a desire for revenge, the main anti-government groups were mostly driven by money interests. Being Washington’s top surrogate in Venezuela comes with a significant cash prize. The “interim government” had “budgets” in the $50-million range, drawn from frozen Venezuelan state funds, approved by the US Treasury, while the US Senate also set aside $50 million for “democracy promotion” in 2023.
With their move, AD+PJ+UNT can decide how to divvy up the money without the middleman. There are opposition primaries coming up to choose a unified presidential candidate, and the different factions will want all the money they can get their hands on to spend on campaigning.
The foreign asset jackpot
Corporate media outlets will shake off their responsibilities after uncritically jumping on the Guaidó bandwagon four years ago. They will lament that the democratically-elected Maduro “held on to power,” that Guaidó could not convince the military to stage a good old-fashioned coup, that sanctions did not kill enough people to trigger regime change.
It was not for lack of trying. From a humanitarian aid stunt to a military putsch to a paramilitary invasion, the hardliners went for it, only with Wile E. Coyote skills. It was clear that their hopes were that the US would solve it, either directly with a military invasion (their dream scenario) or via economic strangling.
Yet while this unfolded on the big screen, a proper racket was underway. Washington and its allies seized a number of Venezuelan assets and placed them under opposition control. It was an opportunity for all sorts of shady deals and to get jobs for the boys. One insider said the various factions treated Monómeros, a Colombia-based agrochemical producer, like a “piñata.”
The “interim government” offered the opposition a remarkable scenario: the opportunity for unfettered corruption without needing to take power. And the parties that ousted Guaidó were very much part of the all-you-can-eat feast, only they might have felt that their junior partner was enjoying too big a slice. When the scandals piled up they just dumped the blame on their frontman
The jewel in the US-backed crew’s portfolio is the $8 billion worth CITGO. While it did not allow for some straightforward pillaging, it still saw plenty of antics that have all but sealed the company’s fate. Guaidó’s people have failed to show up in court, struck shady under-the-table deals and raised suspicions of conflicts of interest.
There is a court-ordered share auction underway in Delaware and no shortage of creditors looking to grab a chunk of CITGO. The “interim government” squabbling might be the perfect excuse for the US Treasury Department to just give the vultures the greenlight. And thus, behind very incompetent efforts to overthrow the Maduro government we will have witnessed a very successful daylight robbery of Venezuelan assets.
It is quite telling that US officials basically said they would recognize “whatever the opposition came up with” and that in no scenario would the assets be returned to the Venezuelan state. Empires make up the rules as they go along. While it is time to pivot to another regime-change strategy, there is no reason not to let corporations have their day in the sun.
When it is all said and done, Guaidó will go down as a combination of pathetic and nefarious that is unlikely to appear again. It remains to be seen whether he will be rewarded with a cushy corporate or NGO post, or rightfully end up in jail.