Venezuela Weekly: In Risky Move, Guaidó Travels Abroad Seeking Support

With an increasingly adverse domestic context, Venezuela’s National Assembly (AN) president Juan Guaidó has defied a Supreme Court travel ban and has set out on an international tour to build international support. It is a risky move for Guaidó, as it is not clear he will be able to enter Venezuela again. It seems to be an effort to refocus flagging international attention on the rapidly diminishing prospects for a return to democracy.

Guaidó was addressed as “president” and received the honors of a state visit in Colombia. In Bogotá he participated in a regional anti-terrorism conference where he portrayed Venezuela as threat to the region, harboring Colombian guerrilla groups and serving as a platform for Hezbollah terrorist cells.

In London he met with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. In Brussels he received the support of the European Parliament and from the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell. The latter called for “credible and transparent presidential and legislative elections.”

In Davos, Switzerland Guaidó addressed the World Economic Forum again warning about Hezbollah cells and claiming that the Maduro government used gold to support illicit groups. He held individual meetings with leaders. U.S. President Donald Trump, however, left Davos early without meeting with Guaidó.

The tour has effectively regained some attention for Guaidó and made him look presidential. The emphasis on Venezuela as a supposed platform for terrorism and regional instability represents an effort at making Venezuela’s political crisis into an international security crisis and thereby generate international intervention. Claims of supposed links to Hezbollah have been around for a long time and get recycled at key moments. However, they do not seem to convince leading investigative journalists or serious scholars. It is doubtful that this discourse will help Guaidó build the broad international coalition he needs.

A number of alternative opinions on opposition strategy have been put forth of the past week.

  • Two time opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles published an an op-ed arguing that the opposition and the population should center their efforts to have the best possible conditions for legislative elections in 2020.
  • Political scientist Michael Penfold argues that Guaidó should do all he can to use international support to gain conditions for free and fair electoral conditions.
  • In an interview with Luz Mely Reyes, David argues that seeking international support is good, but the opposition should try to align international actors behind a negotiated solution.

Continuing Crackdown on the Opposition

  • Venezuelan police raided the office of Juan Guaidó in Caracas. Maduro government officials deny the raid and claim that the police operation occurred in the offices of two businessmen related to Guaidó that are allegedly involved in money laundering.
  • State security forces have detained opposition deputy Ismael León. He was arrested with his assistant after trying to attend a session of the National Assembly.
  • The members of the Guaidó’s opposition majority National Assembly denounce that so far this year cannot access the Legislative Palace because the security forces and armed Maduro’s supporters block their entry. They have been holding session in alternative spaces.
  • Maduro’s Attorney General, Elvis Amoroso, announced he would freeze bank accounts and politically disqualify people who receive money from the assets that the country has abroad and which are administrated by Guaidó.
  • The Caracas Teachers’ Union denounced the disappearance of the general secretary of the Venezuelan Federation of Teachers, René Zapata, who was violently arrested by the police forces. Zapata had participated before his arrest in a National Assembly’s session, where he called for a general strike.

Maduro Government

Having gained the upper hand, the Maduro government is now seeking international normalization and legitimacy.

  • In an exclusive interview with Washington Post, Maduro offered access to Venezuela’s energy sector for S. oil companies if Trump lifts the sanctions and reset the relations between the two countries. Soon after the number two of Chavismo, Diosdado Cabello repeated in his own style the same message.
  • In his January 23rd speech (a national holiday in Venezuela celebrating the fall of the Marcos Pérez Jiménez dictatorship) Maduro invited the International Contact Group, Mexico, Argentina and Panama to participate in the selection of a new National Electoral Council and to observe legislative elections.

Money and Politics

  • Soliciting help to gain leniency from the US Justice Department, a millionaire businessman very close to Chavismo, Alejandro Betancourt, told Trump’s lawyer Rudolph Giuliani that said he had helped and financed Juan Guaidó’s efforts for a political change in Venezuela. Opposition representatives have denied support.

 International Pressure and Support

  • As it was expected, Guatemala cut diplomatic ties with Maduro’s government and closed its embassy in Caracas after the new Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei took office last week.
  • Uruguay’s President-elect Luis Lacalle Pou has suggested he will recognize Juan Guaidó as National Assembly president but not as interim president. This could complicate Uruguay’s collaboration with the Lima Group.
  • High-rank representatives of the Maduro government have met with their Chinese, Iran, and Cuban counterparts in the last week and discussed political, economic, diplomatic, and social cooperation.
  • The Chinese government said they are willing to work with the international community and have a “constructive role in pushing the Venezuelan issue into an inclusive political settlement.”

 Migration

  • Over 400,000 Venezuelans live in Ecuador, according to the Ecuadorian government. According to the data, 65% of Venezuelan children do not have access to formal education in Ecuador, while only 11% of Venezuelans have formal employment.

Sanctions

  • The U.S. government extended for three more months permission for five major oil-related U.S. companies to continue operating in Venezuela. Furthermore, the U.S. government amended general license to certain international organizations (U.N., World Bank, etc.) to allow dealing with the sanctioned Central Bank of Venezuela, and extended the protection of the Venezuelan Texas-based refiner Citgo from creditors for three more months.
  • At the same time, the U.S. continues sanctioning Venezuelan entities, this time sanctioning 15 aircraft that belong to the PDVSA.