Venezuela’s political situation is confusing for most Venezuelans, so it is not strange that it is also confusing for people around the world. The situation changes, new actors step up, the crisis worsens on a daily basis. It is a highly dynamical and complex situation.
On January 10th, Nicolás Maduro sworn in for a second term as a president of Venezuela. The opposition says the appointment is unconstitutional, and that, therefore, Maduro is usurping the Presidency, calling National Assembly President, Juan Guaidó to assume the Presidency instead. Many important actors in the International Community in general (The EU, the United States, the OAS, the Lima Group and more) have supported the claims of illegitimacy over the second presidential term of Nicolás Maduro. Let’s go step by step.
The legal frame
The article 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution regulates the absolute absence of the President. This may be due to a variety of reasons: death, mental or physical incapacity, resignation, a destitution decree of the Supreme Court, recall and abandonment of the position declared by the National Assembly.
The same article also states that whenever this occurs before the president-elect have been sworn to the post, a new election must be held in the next 30 days and in the meantime, the president of the National Assembly must assume the Presidency of Venezuela.
But there is a legal issue: is the problem due to an absolute absence or to the fact that nobody has been legally and rightfully elected as president?
Venezuelan Opposition and a large part of the International Community agree that the May 20th election was a fraud and was illegal due to irregularities in the process and the fact that they were convoked by the Constituent National Assembly, a parallel of the National Assembly created by Maduro on 2017 to legislate and create a new Constitution.
The fact is that nowhere in the Venezuelan Constitution one can find a clear provision on what to do when there is no rightfully-elected President.
But, to offer some guidance on what to do we must look up to the article 333 of the Constitution. This article states that in the given case the Constitution is derogated or wrongfully disregarded citizens and public officers must collaborate to its reestablishment. As the National Assembly is the sole power elected in recognized legitimate elections, and interpreting the article 233 in light of the 333, the logical conclusion is that the National Assembly, through its president, must assume the Presidency of Venezuela temporarily.
What the Regime and the Opposition say?
Maduro says his election is legitimate, and his supporters say that his legitimacy does not depend on international recognition. They continue to blame the political crisis to the opposition.
Maduro was sworn into his post in front of the Supreme Court, instead of the National Assembly, as he says the Assembly is in rebellion against him. The event was clouded by the renounce and subsequent fleeing to the US of Christian Zerpa, a Supreme Court Justice that now denounces the lack of independence of the Judiciary.
Some government officials, like Iris Valera, have called for the detainment of Juan Guaidó, as they believe he is trying to stage a coup against Maduro.
In general, the Venezuelan opposition has stated the illegitimacy of Maduro’s second term, but the devil is in the details.
Guaidó declarations have been somewhat ambiguous. He stated that after January 10th, the Opposition would prepare a route for political transition and the reestablishment of a democratic government.
In a popular assembly called by the Opposition, he said that the National Assembly would assume the international representation of Venezuela and the disposition of the articles 233, 333 and 350 of the Constitution.
But he never clearly stated that he would assume the Presidency of Venezuela.
Some members of the 16-J fraction of the National Assembly (a group of small parties with a more radical position against Maduro and Chavismo) said that Guaidó must assume the Presidency of the Republic and that they would support him if he did so. Juan Pablo Guanipa of the more moderate Primero Justicia party made similar declarations.
Guaidó called for demonstrations all over the country on January 23rd, an important date for Venezuela, as it was the day that the last military that ruled Venezuela –before Chávez, Marcos Pérez Jiménez, was ousted.
Other members of the opposition believe the cautious approach being taken by Guaidó is the best route. In the same Assembly, he stated that to be able to realistically assume the competences of the Presidency and call for new elections, he would need the support of the people, the military and the international community.
Still, despite this moderate and somewhat ambiguous approach, Guaidó was detained by the SEBIN (the intelligence service of the Venezuelan regime) and released a few hours later on Sunday in a confusing move by the government. The opposition has said that the detainment and release was an attempt to intimidate Guaidó and his supporters. Government officials said the officers were acting on their own and against their superiors’ orders.
What the international actors say?
The disapproval and non-recognition of Maduro’s second term as President have been widespread.
The same day of the swearing, the OAS passed a resolution with 19 votes in favor to acknowledge Maduro’s swearing as illegitimate. That day, too, Paraguay decided to break diplomatic relations with Venezuela.
Jair Bolsonaro, Brazillian president and Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the OAS, both stated that they would recognize Juan Guaidó as President of Venezuela and that he must assume the competence.
The United States also said that it would not recognize the election and that would analyze the possibility of further sanctions. Canada, the EU, Japan, the Lima Group (composed by most of the Latin American countries opposed to Maduro) and many other countries also criticized Maduro and called for new elections.
In a surprising and widely-criticized move, the UN said that it would continue to cooperate with the Maduro Administration.
The international supporters of Maduro are the usual suspects, the most important: China, Russia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Turkey, Iran, and Syria.
What’s coming next?
It’s hard to say. But in January 23rd a new series of demonstrations similar to those in 2014 and 2017 may start. Also, as local and international pressure over Guaidó to assume the Presidency escalates, some believe that move may come as soon as that same day, which would definitely make him a candidate for the next political prisoner of Maduro.
Also, as the international pressure intensifies, we can expect tougher sanctions over Maduro and his supporters. Similarly, the calls and rumors of international intervention will increase.
Right now, the political future in Venezuela is a blank page. As we say here: Amanecerá y veremos (sunrise will come, and then we will see).