Conflicts & War

Venezuela’s opposition left rudderless ahead of legislative elections

By Gonzalo Dominguez Loeda

Caracas, Jul 7 (efe-epa).- Demonstrations, negotiations, elections and international pressure have been ineffectual. Armed uprisings and coup attempts have ended as desperate failures.

Nothing has worked for Venezuela’s opposition, which finds itself out of options a year and a half after Juan Guaido declared himself the country’s rightful president and launched what once appeared to be a formidable challenge to leftist head of state Nicolas Maduro.

The opposition now faces a new daunting dilemma ahead of Dec. 6 parliamentary elections to be overseen by the National Electoral Council, which it regards as biased and closely allied with the administration.

The situation for key anti-Maduro parties Justice First (PJ) and Democratic Action (AD) is even more bleak after the Supreme Court last month ousted their leaders and replaced them with two men – Jose Brito and Bernabe Gutierrez, respectively – whom the opposition accuses of accepting bribes for switching sides and allying themselves with the government.

The opposition says this year’s elections will be a farce but has not proposed any alternative.

Dimitris Pantoulas, an expert in Venezuelan and Latin American politics, told Efe that the Venezuelan opposition has steered itself into a dead end because “all the options they once had are no longer on the table.”

Furthermore, “its international allies … are not taking the actions that could make Maduro sit down at a table and negotiate a peaceful solution in Venezuela.”

It now seems like an eternity since Guaido, then the new head of the opposition-controlled but toothless National Assembly, said Maduro’s re-election victory in 2018 was fraudulent (and his power was therefore illegitimate) and declared himself to be Venezuela’s constitutionally designated interim president on Jan. 23, 2019.

Anti-Maduro enthusiasm in the streets has steadily waned since then, as Guaido, despite his personal popularity, has been unable to channel mass political and economic dissatisfaction over high inflation and chronic shortages of grocery staples and medical supplies into a successful regime-change movement.

Meanwhile, despite the harsh sanctions the United States has imposed on Venezuela’s life-blood oil industry and recognition for Guaido by the US and its main allies in Europe and South America, Maduro is more entrenched in power than ever before.

Two efforts to oust Maduro by force have further exposed the opposition’s impotence.

On April 30, 2019, Guaido sought to lead a military uprising but managed only to showcase to the Venezuelan people the armed forces’ loyalty to Maduro.

More surprising still was an attempted May 3-4, 2020, coastal incursion by a group of 50 people – mostly Venezuelan former soldiers and police officers, joined by two American ex-Green Berets (special forces) employed by a company known as Silvercorp.

That firm had signed a contract with one of Guaido’s senior advisers, J.J. Rendon, who later said he had never given the green light for the operation.

Guaido, for his part, denied any involvement in the botched plot, which ended with Venezuelan security forces killing eight members of the raiding team and detaining dozens of others.

Pantoulas, who resides in Caracas, said the operation smacked of “desperation,” especially since news about the coup plot had been leaked to the press days earlier.

“It was an open secret. It’s strange that you would try to pull it off after it had been publicly exposed. That shows desperation, a lack of organization. And I think Guaido has no other cards left,” he said.

Amid uncertainty about Guaido’s political future, an opposition long accustomed to being split among different forces may lapse into the divisions that reigned prior to early 2019.

Pantoulas said the opposition might be carved into three sectors: “an opposition that isn’t moderate at all, but complicit with Maduro’s plans,” another sector under Guaido’s leadership, “which could be inside Venezuela or in exile” and a “radical (sector) asking for things that aren’t going to happen because you’re asking them of people you have no control over.”

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