Venezuelans go to the polls this Sunday to elect a new congress in elections that the opposition is boycotting and most Western nations denounce a fraud by President Nicolás Maduro to retake the last state institution that is not in the hands of the ruling Socialist Party .
The vote will almost certainly return Congress to Maduro’s allies despite his government struggling with an economy in shambles, aggressive U.S. sanctions stifling the OPEC nation’s oil exports, and the migration of 5 million. citizens.
Members of the new congress will have few tools to improve the lives of Venezuelans whose monthly salaries rarely cover the cost of a day’s purchase, nor will their election enhance Maduro’s reputation among Western countries for mismanagement and undermining of human rights.
However, it could give Maduro legitimacy to offer investment deals to the few companies around the world who are willing to risk defying Washington sanctions to access the world’s largest oil reserves.
Many Venezuelans struggling with basic necessities such as electricity, security and food are tired of their country’s politicians, who they say have done nothing to stem the decline in living conditions.
The election closes a cycle that began in 2015 when an euphoric opposition celebrated winning Congress by overwhelming majority, only to see its legislative powers swept away by pro-government courts and the creation in 2017 of an all-powerful body known as the National Constituent Assembly. .
The opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, head of the current congress, calls on Venezuelans to boycott the vote and participate in a consultation on December 12 that will ask citizens if they reject Sunday’s vote and if they want a change of government.
Who is Juan Guaidó?
Opposition leader Juan Guaidó was almost unknown both inside and outside of Venezuela until earlier this year.
Guaidó was named president of the national assembly in January because it was the turn of his party, Voluntad Popular (Popular Will). At 35, he was a minor member of his party, but its leaders were under house arrest, in hiding or in exile.
He declared himself “interim president” that month, supporting his claim in a clause in the constitution that allows the legislature to temporarily seize power and call new elections if it considers the president is failing to fulfill his basic duties or has vacated the position. .
Guaido’s relative obscurity initially demonstrated an advantage in a country where the opposition has generally could not be distinguished, losing courage at critical moments, succumbing to infighting and participating in a failed coup against Hugo Chávez in 2002.
He inspired a great wave of protests within Venezuela with a message of peaceful change and garnered broad international support. Countries from Europe to the United States and regional powers recognized him as the legitimate president of Venezuela, handing him control of Venezuelan bank accounts and assets along with formal recognition.
Yet as the months passed, Guaidó’s hope of winning a wave of military defections that would end Nicolás Maduro’s government seemed to fade, leaving his movement in an uncomfortable limbo: a self-proclaimed but powerless president.
He expressed concern within Venezuela and internationally when he appeared to hint at the possibility of military intervention after a failed attempt to bring humanitarian aid to the country in February.
Questions have also been raised about the bedmates Guaidó has chosen in what he calls his attempt to rescue Venezuela. Its main international sponsor is Donald Trump.
Another key regional supporter is Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, known for his hostility to human rights and his fondness for dictatorship. Despite these characteristics, Guaidó has praised what he called Bolsonaro’s “commitment to and for democracy [and] human rights”.
Guaidó has been recognized by more than 50 countries, including the United States, as the legitimate interim president of Venezuela, after most Western nations disavowed Maduro’s re-election in 2018 as fraudulent.
Those countries are expected to continue to recognize Guaidó, although the opposition is discussing proposals that could limit the size of his interim government and reduce the number of ambassadors.
The legislature passed a resolution on Saturday condemning Sunday’s “event” as fraudulent and unconstitutional, adding that it “violates the right of Venezuelans to hold free, transparent and fair elections.”
Despite Donald Trump’s campaign of sanctions and diplomatic pressure, Maduro has remained in power, backed by the military and supported by Russia, Cuba, China and Iran.
The top US envoy in Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, told Reuters in an interview on Thursday that there was a strong bipartisan consensus in Washington on the need to maintain pressure on Maduro, and that he did not expect major changes in US policy. when Joe Biden takes office. January 20.
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