Today the Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin America Advisor ran a Q&A on the Venezuelan opposition’s current malaise. Julia Buxton, Luis Vicente Leon and I provided responses. The question and my response are below. The entire Q&A can be read here.
LAA: Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó has seen his popularity drop to 42 percent in November from 61 percent in February. Meantime, Guaidó has struggled to organize anti-government street protests, and he is now dealing with an influence-peddling scandal in the opposition’s ranks. Has Guaidó failed as the leader of Venezuela’s opposition? Should he step aside, or can his efforts to oust President Nicolás Maduro regain momentum? Nearly a year after Guaidó won international recognition as Venezuela’s legitimate president, why has he been unable to dislodge Maduro from power?
DS: The problem is not Juan Guaidó as a leader but a strategy that has run its course. After almost a year of trying to push out Nicolas Maduro through a campaign of maximum pressure, it seems readily apparent that Maduro will maintain a solid grip on power over the coming year. There is little appetite in the U.S. and the region for military intervention and there is not much more that can be done with targeted sanctions. Economic sanctions have simply worsened the humanitarian emergency and accelerated the forced migration crisis, in the process undermining the opposition’s ability to mobilize. The opposition coalition needs to realize that its interests are not identical to those of the United States. The Trump administration would be quite content to continue with a deadlock in Venezuela that can serve for electoral mobilization in Florida and to point out the dangers of socialism. This is the recipe that has worked for decades with Cuba and Venezuela seems to be destined to fulfill the same role. The opposition needs to reflect on this new landscape. They should continue pushing for a new electoral council and should debate various economic plans that are being floated, regarding the recovery of the electricity grid in western Venezuela and a potential oil-for-essentials program. These moves could develop some social and political capital that could make a political solution more likely. If they do not strategically pivot they could be banished from the only institutional space they currently have through legislative elections, and will face a continued degradation of their coalition.