Venezuela: Opposition Parties Oust Guaidó As ‘Interim President’

Caracas – The three largest Venezuelan opposition groups voted to eliminate the so-called “interim government.”

On Thursday, Democratic Action (AD), Justice First (PJ) and A New Era (UNT) followed through on their pledge to put an end to the bureaucratic apparatus led by self-proclaimed “Interim President” Juan Guaidó.

The decision was taken during a virtual session of the defunct, opposition-controlled National Assembly (AN) elected in December 2015. Though its term ended in January 2021, the main anti-government parties boycotted the December 2020 legislative elections and instead kept a largely ceremonial parallel parliament by unilaterally extending its mandate on a yearly basis.

Via a Zoom call, a project to reform the so-called “Transition Statute” garnered 72 votes in favor, 29 against and 8 abstentions.

The “Transition Statute” was the framework set up by the US-backed political formations to reject the Nicolás Maduro government’s authority as well as not recognize the 2018 presidential elections. It was the basis for Guaidó’s self-proclamation as “interim president” in January 2019.

The text has been updated on a yearly basis. In late 2021, AD, PJ and UNT were already willing to oust the “interim government” but ended up backing down and stripping the apparatus of some of its competencies. With the latest reform, the clauses referring to the Guaidó-led structure were removed, though the parallel AN’s operations were extended for a further year.

The motion led by the three right-wing opposition parties drew fierce rebukes from Guaidó loyalists, particularly the far-right Popular Will (VP) party. The online session was filled with angry exchanges, with VP members such as Freddy Guevara accusing the other forces of committing “political suicide” and engaging in a “hit job” against Guaidó.

Another recurring argument pertained to the supposed “unconstitutional” nature of the reformed instrument as it allegedly transfers executive powers to a legislative body. Nevertheless, the creation of the “interim government” and Guaidó’s post emanated from a spurious interpretation of the Constitution’s article 233. PJ’s Juan Miguel Matheus reminded his colleagues that the entire project was a creation of the National Assembly.

For his part, Guaidó called the move a “leap into the unknown” as it put the “recognition” of the anti-government factions at risk. “The political decision to eliminate a constitutional weapon puts us in a bad position,” he said.

The parallel AN will appoint a five-person “Administration and Asset Protection Council” to manage resources. The “interim government” had recurring budgets assigned by the US Treasury Department, drawing funds from frozen accounts belonging to the Venezuelan state. Last week, the US Senate approved US $50 million for “democracy promotion” programs in Venezuela for 2023.

The move to sideline Guaidó comes as opposition forces look to return to the electoral field and challenge the ruling Socialist Party (PSUV) in presidential elections scheduled for 2024. Anti-Chavista forces are set to hold primary elections in mid-2023.

At the time of writing, the US has yet to comment on the reconfiguration of the opposition structures. However, the proposal was reportedly run by US officials during meetings with opposition representatives in Washington.

In the run-up to Thursday’s vote, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols stated in an interview that the Biden administration would follow whatever the anti-government majority decided. An anonymous spokesperson from the US National Security Council likewise told Reuters that the White House would continue recognizing the “interim government” “regardless of the form it takes.”

Thursday’s contentious conclusion brought an end to four years with Guaidó at the opposition’s helm. Following his self-proclamation on January 23, 2019, he would go on to lead a number of unsuccessful efforts to oust the Maduro government by force, including a military coup and a paramilitary invasion.

Guaidó also counted on full-fledged US support, with military threats and especially a wide-reaching sanctions program meant to strangle the Caribbean nation’s economy.

The hardline opposition saw its support dwindle internationally as well, from some 60 countries that recognized the “interim government” as Venezuela’s legitimate authority in early 2019 to a handful presently. Leftist victories in Latin American elections have left Guaidó devoid of regional backers.

A major source of controversy during opposition debates concerned the management of a number of Venezuelan assets that Washington and its allies blocked and placed under the control of the “interim government.” While the defunct AN’s appointed committee will look to step in, the formal restructuring could lead to uncertainty.

The most important case is the $8 billion-worth oil refiner and marketer CITGO. The US-based subsidiary is currently undergoing a court-ordered share auction to satisfy international arbitration awards. A US Treasury order currently forbids any seizure of Venezuelan assets stateside without special permission. It is due to expire in January if the Biden White House decides not to extend it for another year.

The opposition’s handling of foreign assets has seen different factions trade accusations of corruption. Similarly, Guaidó has drawn suspicions of collusion and conflicts of interest in legal battles over Venezuelan assets.

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