By Ingrid Jiménez
The international community finds Venezuela with two presidents and two legislatures, one pro-regime and another pro-opposition, questioned for their legitimacy and continuity respectively.
Venezuela begins the year 2021 with a president (head of the regime), an interim president (opposition), a National Assembly (full pro-regime legislative body) and an Acting Committee (temporary body during legislative recess – pro-opposition). In 2019, Congressman Juan Guaidó proclaimed himself as interim president. To this end, he invoked Article 233 of the National Constitution whereby, in the absence of a president-elect as of the start of a new term of the office on January 10, the National Assembly Speaker shall hold the presidential office until new elections are called. Maduro, on his part, was reelected in the May 2018 elections, a non-transparent process without international recognition, which is the basis of Guaidó’s claim.
In 2020, as provided for in the Constitution, elections to the National Assembly were called, with a new National Electoral Council, this time appointed by the Supreme Court of Justice, under supervening rules in clear breach thereof. Due to the irregularities occurred since they were called, these elections were not recognized by a significant part of the international community, with the exception of the countries allied with Maduro. As expected, the ruling party obtained an absolute majority of seats and regained the only branch of power not controlled by the regime.
The response of the opposition to this process, in addition to a call for abstention, was to hold a popular referendum directed practically at diehard opponents, but without a clear strategic objective.
Furthermore, the outgoing National Assembly amended the statute governing the transition to democracy, approved in early 2019. This amendment allowed for the extension of the Parliament’s term making the Acting Committee permanent, until free, fair, and verifiable elections are held, or for a maximum of one additional year.
In the two years since the proclamation of Guaidó, many of the democratic governments recognized him as interim president; but his strategy failed to bring about a political transition. During this time, there were important cracks in the opposition coalition that gradually impaired the interim government.
The fact is that, as of January 5, 2021, the National Assembly elected in 2015 is no longer legal or legitimate. This undoubtedly has repercussions for the future of the interim rule in the face of the international community.
The United States (US), the first country to support the proclamation of Guaidó, in addition to disavowing the National Assembly elected on December 6, 2020, confirmed that it would continue to recognize him as interim president, as would the National Assembly inaugurated in January 2016 and its Acting Committee. This position may vary in the coming months, resulting from the change of government and the differences in foreign policy focus between Trump and Biden that became evident during the electoral campaign.
The headquarters of the European Union (EU) in Brussels, a stakeholder of great geopolitical importance in the region, has always had a pro multilateral position oriented towards a negotiated solution to the conflict. Therefore, it will very likely seek a rapprochement with Biden.
The Europeans, until the last moment, tried to negotiate a postponement of the parliamentary elections with the regime so that a minimum of democratic guarantees to hold them could be achieved. The official statement disavowing the parliament elected on December 6, 2020, as democratically representative underscores that “the EU will maintain its engagement with all political and civil society actors striving to bring back democracy to Venezuela, including in particular Juan Guaidó and other representatives of the outgoing National Assembly elected in 2015″. The bloc avoided to acknowledge Guaidó to be the interim president and referred to the parliament chaired by him as the “outgoing National Assembly”, despite the administrative continuity enacted by this body and its decision to proceed with sessions through its Acting Committee.
Its position does not exclude the future recognition of the interim rule that each country can make separately; but it makes clear that the EU, in the interest of contributing to the holding of free elections, will engage with various stakeholders of the country and not only with those who have led the opposition in the last two years.
It is not easy for those governments allied with the Venezuelan opposition to recognize the continuity of the National Assembly elected in 2015. The reason for this is that, constitutionally, its term has expired and with it the legitimacy of the interim government.
The EU considers Guaidó to be a key player in the opposition, but not the only one. Therefore, its position may contribute to opening a margin for the completion of an interim government that has never existed in real politics.
The Venezuelan experience of the last two years shows, as noted in Lowenthal and Bitar (2016), that the support of the international community is one more factor in the complex processes of transition, but not the determining element to trigger change.
As of January 5, 2021, the challenge for democratic factors will be to build a political platform with a clear narrative and strategy at home and abroad that will allow the Venezuelan crisis to remain on the agenda of the international community, especially that of the US and the EU.