Latin America Advisor Q&A: Is Venezuela’s Opposition Losing Ground to Maduro?

This week the Inter-American Dialogue’s daily publication, Latin America Advisor, published a Q&A segment on the opposition’s current standing in Venezuela. WOLA’s Geoff Ramsey, along with Diego Arria, maria Velez, and Beatrice Rangel, provided responses. The question and Geoff Ramsey’s response is below. The full Q&A can be read here.

LAA: Forces loyal to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on Sunday sought to take control of the opposition-led National Assembly, surrounding the assembly building and physically blocking its president, Juan Guaidó, from entering. Inside, pro-Maduro legislators swore in dissident opposition lawmaker Luis Parra as the assembly’s new leader, and later a majority of assembly members gathered at an opposition newspaper office to re-elect Guaidó to the same position. What does Sunday’s chaos mean for Venezuela’s political crisis and governance, and will Maduro emerge stronger or weaker as a result? How should the international community respond? What does Guaidó’s re-election say about the state of the opposition in Venezuela?

GR: It is clear that Maduro’s attempted takeover of the National Assembly leadership is a brazen power grab. What is difficult to understand is how exactly he gains in the long term. By sidelining the mainstream opposition majority, Maduro has dealt a near-fatal blow to efforts at negotiating a new National Electoral Council (CNE) that could organize trustworthy elections. Without an electoral authority deal, it will be impossible for Venezuelan elites to escape their current predicament. There will be no sanctions relief or normalized relations from the United States or the European Union on the current path. Instead, it seems that the regime is increasingly counting on a lifeline from the Russians, who have wasted no time in recognizing the ‘new’ National Assembly leader.

However, Russia is not a reliable long-term partner for Maduro. Moscow’s interests center around increased access to oil, and Putin would happily work with a rival who can guarantee this access on similar or better terms. So while Maduro has gained some short-term benefit by highlighting the opposition’s divisions and lack of real power on the ground, in the long term his prospects look dimmer by the day. This fact will not be lost on those around him. As the government hurtles down a path that guarantees further political and economic decay, key stakeholders in Maduro’s inner circle may well consider the transition proposals made in Oslo and Barbados in a new light. In 2020, the opposition’s success may depend on whether it can improve engagement with these actors—and incorporate their demands at the negotiating table.