Venezuelan Government Met With Opposition

Sean Gannon, Staff Reporter

Under President Nicolás Maduro’s regime, runaway inflation has thrown much of the population into desperate poverty. Food and drug prices are sky-high and becoming increasingly unavailable in stores. Criminal gangs police the streets and public distrust and anger have reached a boil. A tenth of the population has fled the country according to the UN, and polls from Datanálisis show 80 percent of Venezuelans want a new leader.

Juan Guaidó believes he is next in line. The 35 year-old leader of the National Assembly pronounced himself interim president before a cheering anti-Maduro protest in Caracas, the capital, last month. He declared the presidency vacant on the grounds that President Maduro’s re-election last year was illegitimate. Under these circumstances, the Venezuelan Constitution vests the presidency to the leader of the National Assembly until fair elections can be held.

Within hours of Mr. Guaidó’s fiery inauguration, the United States recognized him as the new president. Many of Venezuela’s neighbors and leading democracies followed suit.

There is, however, some pushback against Mr. Guaidó’s constitutional rationale of a vacant presidency. Dr. Julie Charlip, a professor of Latin American history at Whitman, believes the opposition skipped a step in the succession laid out by the constitution. “Maduro is serving as president. So you can’t say there is no president,” Prof. Charlie said. “There is a president, whether you feel his election was illegitimate is another question.” She longs for a Maduro resignation, but for now sees Mr. Guaidó’s declaration as premature and “undemocratic.”

True to form, Maduro rejected the declaration as a power grab — more American involvement that has destabilized and region over the past half-century and, as Prof. Charlip put it, “largely been terrible.” Maduro maintains his rule via the support of the Venezuelan army and federal courts he’s filled with loyalists.

Aiming to accelerate the ruler’s resignation by tightening his checkbook, the Trump administration imposed strict sanctions on the state-owned oil monopoly PDVSA. According to Global Tenders, a business research firm, Maduro and his late predecessor, Hugo Chavez, each used the world’s largest oil reserves to fund their political largesse and bribe military generals for support. 

The sanctions have met domestic and foreign dissent. Progressive politicians like Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Ilhan Omar, along with Prof. Charlip, denounced the sanctions as further U.S. encroachment on Latin American sovereignty. And they fear the sanctions will harm the Venezuelan people more than government. Backing the incumbent, the Kremlin called the sanctions illegal and the China Foreign Ministry said they will only make situation more complicated. 

Other observers see the Trump Administration’s involvement as much-needed support for the Venezuelan people and their constitutional leader, not American overreach. Recently elected ASWC President Juan Pablo Liendo Molina, who is from Venezuela’s capital, is one of them. “This foreign policy toward Venezuela is what we have needed for so long… I’m very grateful,” Liendo said. Liendo has watched the Maduro regime corrode his home country, and has no faith that the military will withdraw their support for the ruler. “They are as guilty as Maduro… they are shameful” he said. 

Liendo says his friends and family in Venezuela feel likewise, while the American political-right is united in their support for Mr. Guaidó and rejection of the socialist regime.

Prof. Charlip and Cameron Conner, a third year Politics-Rhetoric major, both agree Maduro has got to go, but favor a coalition of countries over unilateral American action — a popular opinion in this revived debate over America’s global responsibility. 

“That’s what the UN is there for,” said Charlip. “To help mediate these disputes and do it collectively, not with the dominance of one particular nation for its own interests.”

Conner believes America’s regrettable history in the region has contaminated our reputation, and our turbulent last few years has soured American exceptionalism. “I think a lot of people are saying ‘No. We don’t have the answers anymore,’” he said.

Mr. Guaidó’s path to the Miraflores Palace looks uncertain, and possibly bloody.

The opposition hopes government and military officials, promised amnesty by Mr. Guaidó, facilitate President Maduro’s resignation — perhaps forcefully. The nascent leader has guaranteed safe passage for the Maduro family, likely to Cuba, Russia or Turkey.

But government and military higher-ups benefit massively from the status quo — a fallen regime would end their handouts and jeopardize their positions.

A bloody crackdown on the interim president or protestors could hurry a UN decision, but for now the “world’s least successful president,” dubbed by The Economist, maintains his authority through armed support.