President Nicolas Maduro withstood extreme pressure from the United States, Colombia and almost all of Latin America throughout 2019. He was accused of drug trafficking, human rights violations, genocide and dictatorship by his enemies. Nevertheless, he started 2020 on the front foot, shaking off his slumber, and taking someone who is recognised as “interim president” by more than 50 countries out of the game.
Maduro simmered [former National Assembly President Juan] Guaido for a year on a low heat, and has slowly shoved him aside, cutting off his oxygen and room for manoeuvre.
This isn’t the same Maduro [as when he was elected in 2013], and what can the “democratic world” say about it? He achieved this with a much more subtle move than the one applied in Peru, when the congress was dissolved [in September 2019], or by the Organisation of American States in Bolivia [in November 2019].
This is also not the same opposition as in as January 2019. That one has been displaced. It was mugged and went home without realising.
It has lost all of its offensive options: opposition leaders no longer speak of a “humanitarian crisis,” nor do they ask for military intervention to “save those who are hungry,” let alone consider a final attack [to overthrow the government] such as their famous last-day marches. They are stunned. The opposition has already lost everything, it doesn’t have any popular support not the authority to ask for help. What else can they accuse Maduro of? Where else can they go denounce him?
But the events of January 5 [when Guaido was displaced as president of the National Assembly (AN)] has many other lessons to be learnt.
The swearing-in ceremony for the new leadership of the AN was carried out in total disorder, only showing the inability of Chavismo and the opposition to make institutions work. Politicians from both sides have evolved into small groups, isolated from the affairs of the country, only looking to dupe each other.
In any case, the move to take the opposition out of the game, however antidemocratic and interventionist it may be considered, will only bring sad consequences for the national economy, leading it to further isolation. Likewise, in the political sphere, any possibility of consensual elections [to the National Assembly in 2020] has ended, meaning that less countries will challenge sanctions. [Progressive governments in] Argentina and Mexico see the events of January 5 as a “Fujimorazo” (1).
The Venezuelan government did not just sweep away the old AN leadership. They have also taken the next legislative cycle entirely.
It will be very difficult for the [largest opposition] parties grouped into the G4 (Democratic Action, Popular Will, First Justice and A New Time) to now approve any moves to hold elections this year or recognise the new National Assembly.
On January 5, the opposition lost almost everything. To be able to produce a scenario similar to 2015, when it swept the legislative elections, it will have to find an ace up its sleeve, and it looks like there aren’t any left.
Likewise, Guaido has fallen. His weaknesses and lack of power have left him exposed. The charisma he once had has been shown to be a product of spin and marketing. In less than one decisive day, he has been shown to be unable to do anything more relevant that climb the railings [of the AN building], a stunt which made the rounds and only reinforces his weakness.
The 2019 Norway-mediated talks [between the government and the Guaido-led opposition] were the last opportunity for the right wing bloc to level the playing field in which Chavismo has the upper hand.
It had to reach an agreement [with the government] by making logical requests to ensure competition under conditions, if not equal, at least allowing it to participate in a dignified manner. These would include legalising expired party statuses, the elimination of political disqualifications on candidates, and the renewal of the National Electoral Council.
Now, it doesn’t have any of that, and everything [about the elections] will most likely be carefully overseen by the government. The seats where the government is unlikely to really challenge the opposition will likely be won by the parties of the “roundtable” or the rebel deputies who bring a level of recognition and subordination to the “dictatorship” they denounced only days ago (2).
If the opposition has had great problems convening elections in the past because of the aggressiveness of its hardline and most abstentionist wing, it now has many more. It doesn’t look like unity is in the cards anymore.
If it participates in the 2020 parliamentary elections, it will fall apart. If it abstains, it leaves the government with the only state power it doesn’t currently hold. Its inability to manoeuvre seems to be its doom, and this is not good news for the country.
With the new political scenario, Venezuela is much more isolated. It is much harder for the country to reconstruct relations with emerging progressive countries, and hopes for broadly agreed-upon legislation fade in the same way as the country’s normalisation. To the dismay of Venezuelans, 2020 begins with two National Assemblies and a National Constituent Assembly, all of which are wholly powerless to rebuild the country.
(1) The Fujimorazo refers to the actions of Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori on April 5, 1992, when, with the support of the military, he abolished the opposition-dominated Congress and suspended the country’s constitution, as well as declaring a state of emergency.
(2) Following the breakdown of the Norway-mediated talks in September 2019, the government established a National Roundtable for Peaceful Dialogue with minority, more moderate, fractions of the opposition.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.
Translation by Paul Dobson for Venezuelanalysis.