by Steve Ellner, Consortium News:
Trump’s backing of Juan Guaidó’s shadow government could weaken the opposition’s longstanding support among the majority of Venezuelans, writes Steve Ellner.
Since its outset, the Trump administration has ratcheted up pressure on Venezuela and radicalized its positions. In the process, the Venezuelan opposition has become more and more associated with—and dependent on—Washington and its allies. An example is the opposition protests that occurred last week. The actions were timed to coincide with the European Union’s “ultimatum,” which stated they would recognize the shadow government of Juan Guaidó if President Nicolás Maduro had not called elections within a week’s time.
The opposition’s most radical sectors, which include Guaidó’s Voluntad Popular party (VP) along with former presidential candidate María Corina Machado, have always had close ties with the United States. Guaidó, as well as VP head Leopoldo López and the VP’s Carlos Vecchio, who is the shadow government’s chargé d’affaires in Washington, were educated in prestigious U.S. universities—not uncommon among Latin American economic and political elites. The ties between the opposition and international actors are strong: last weekend, Vecchio called the campaign to unseat Maduro“an international effort.” At the same time, Guaidó, referring to opposition-called protests, stated “today, February 2, we are going to meet again in the streets to show our gratitude to the support that the European Parliament has given us.” In doing so, Guaidó explicitly connected the authority of outside countries to his own assumption of leadership.
The outcome of Washington’s actions is bound to be unfavorable in a number of ways, regardless of whether or not they achieve regime change. Most importantly, a government headed by Guaidó will be perceived both by Venezuelans and international observers as “made in U.S.A.” Further, the opposition’s association with foreign powers has enabled the Maduro leadership to keep discontented members of the Chavista movement in their ranks.
Furthermore, Venezuelans will perceive any sign of economic recovery under a Guaidó government as made possible by aid, if not handouts, from Washington, designed to discredit Maduro’s socialist government, though such assistance will undoubtedly be used to further U.S. economic and political interests. In fact, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton has indicated that he is already calling on oil companies to opt for investments in Venezuela once Maduro is overthrown. As he told Fox News,“we’re in conversation with major American companies now… It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.”
Washington Dictating Strategy
Either explicitly or implicitly, Washington is dictating strategy, or at least providing input into its formulation. One of the challenges the opposition faces is the need to demonstrate to rank-and-file Venezuelans that the current offensive against Maduro will be different from the disastrous attempts of 2014 and 2017, when anti-government leaders assured protesters that the president would be toppled in a matter of days. The opposition leadership claims that this time is different for two reasons. First, the regional Right turn has deepened, and the opposition is more able than ever to rely on decisive support from Washington and other governments, regardless of how democratic they are—see the neofascist credentials of Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro.
Second, the opposition is counting on the backing of military officers, particularly lower-ranking ones who have allegedly lost patience with Maduro. In addition to some defections, junior officers attempted to stage a military coup just two days before mass opposition protests on Jan. 23 when Guaidó declared himself president. Previously, the Venezuelan opposition expressed a degree of contempt for military officers for their unwillingness to defy the Chavista government. The opposition’s new perspective dates back to Trump’s three meetings with military rebels and his statement, made alongside President Iván Duque of Colombia in September of last year, that the Maduro government “could be toppled very quickly by the military if the military decides to do that.” The U.S. effort to encourage the military to step in was again made evident on Wednesday in a tweet by John Bolton.
The U.S. will consider sanctions off-ramps for any Venezuelan senior military officer that stands for democracy and recognizes the constitutional government of President Juan Guaido. If not, the international financial circle will be closed off completely. Make the right choice!
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) 6 February 2019
Recently, Guaidó made a similar offer to military officers, implying continuity and closeness between Washington and the shadow government.
Also noteworthy is that Guaidó and other VP leaders are closer to Washington than the rest of the opposition. The Wall Street Journal reported that Guaidó consulted Vice President Mike Pence the night before his self-proclamation as president on Jan. 23. According to ex-presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski the majority of the opposition parties were not aware of Guaidó’s intentions and in fact did not support the idea.
Calling on Military
To make matters worse, the VP-led opposition is openly working hand-in-glove with Washington. Last week Guaidó announced that he would attempt to transport humanitarian aid the United States has deposited on the Colombian and Brazilian borders into Venezuela. He called on the Venezuelan military to disobey orders from the Maduro government by facilitating the passage of goods, while Maduro ordered it blocked. While playing political benefactor, Washington was clearly manipulating the optics of the situation to discredit Maduro and rally more international support for Guaído. In an apparent rebuke to Washington and Guaidó, UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric on Wednesday insisted that the humanitarian aid be “depoliticized.”