Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó during a press conference in August 2022. MIGUEL GUTIÉRREZ (EFE)
Three and a half years have passed. In January 2019, Juan Guaidó launched a pulse against Nicolás Maduro that earned him the recognition of the White House and dozens of governments as “interim president” of Venezuela. Today the opposition leader has made the decision to compete as a candidate in the presidential primaries that the opposition’s Unitary Platform is organizing for early 2023. This option has caused internal disagreement that, according to a version that circulates in the anti-Chavista ranks, goes as far as their allies in the United States.
Guaidó will be backed by his party, Voluntad Popular, from which he had publicly disassociated himself while trying to evict Maduro from power and seeking to force a transition to the head of the so-called Interim Government. This step poses a metamorphosis from the “Guaidó president” to the “Guaidó candidate” in which certain contradictions are sheathed. Some of his allies from this time, like Delsa Solórzano, have let him know that they will no longer support him. The call for opposition primaries has made new applicants flourish. This stage of Guaidó may end up leading to the consultation, since the opposition leader will be one more competitor, while fears about a retaliation by Chavismo in this context increase.
The so-called Interim Presidency -decreed in 2019 by the opposition forces questioning the legitimacy of Maduro after the 2018 elections-, initially respected by the other opposition forces and with international support, is today a diminished and powerless body. And, on the other hand, the team that Guaidó shaped as if it were a government cabinet is today a space that frequently receives criticism and in whose bowels, under mutual accusations of corruption, the relationship between the allied anti-Chavismo parties has deteriorated even more. .
The leader has lost fundamental support in the international community, including the strategic Colombia. Desertions among his collaborators have increased. Three of the largest opposition parties – Democratic Action, Justice First and Un Nuevo Tiempo – have lost faith in him. He has also distanced himself from Encuentro Ciudadano and the Radical Cause, two of the allies of his new coalition, baptized as Save Venezuela.
Things with the United States have changed a bit. Guaidó made his annoyance known to the State Department about the visits of high-ranking US officials to negotiate directly with Nicolás Maduro the relaxation of some sanctions. Meanwhile, the political dialogue with Chavismo in Mexico, about which there were some expectations, has already been in total stagnation for a year.
The organization of a national consultation to choose a leader and a strategy is an urgent need, already thinking about the presidential elections of 2024. Some polls place the interest in participating in these internal primaries at 51%. Guaidó has decided to run, say those who accompany him, because his numbers in the polls are still salvageable and he has political capital that he must defend. He will go, they say, as far as he can go. In the latest measurements, his name is one of the few that is saved from the zone of indifference, along with Manuel Rosales, Henrique Capriles and María Corina Machado. He still travels the country, challenging Maduro, denouncing corruption in Chavismo, objecting to deficiencies in public services, talking about democracy and organizing digital meetings to diagnose the failed dimension of the Venezuelan state in Chavista hands.
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When he posts proclamations on his social networks, he is showered with ridicule and insults from an audience that feels cheated. Her collaborators assure, however, that things are different on the street. “Wherever we go, people say hello, the treatment is affectionate. It’s not what it used to be, but we don’t feel hostility on the tours,” says one of them, who preferred not to identify himself.
“Guaidó is not in a worse position than other opposition leaders, quite the opposite,” says Benigno Alarcón, director of the Center for Academic and Government Studies at the Andrés Bello Catholic University. “Whoever thinks that Guaidó is finished as a political leader is wrong. He is going to present himself as a candidate because he knows that he is alive as a leader. He has lost a lot of support, but it is also true that of the ten organizations that make up the unitary platform, six are still with him. I am among those who think that everyone should attend these primaries, including the disabled and the scorpions – opponents bought by Chavismo who collaborate with its objectives. Juan Guaido, the most outstanding democratic leader of these years, must also be there, ”he concludes.
“Many people resent the contradictory signals that Guaidó offers. The issue that “all options are on the table, an approach that had no logic or foundation,” says Stefania Vitale, political scientist and specialist at the Center for Development Studies, Cendes, of the Central University of Venezuela. “He has the right to present himself, of course he does. What happens is that here he has not rectified himself. You have to speak clearly to people. Too many baseless things have been promised here. He has to assume that he hasn’t made it, that he was wrong. What is he going to compete for? What will happen to the interim government?
Vitale expressly alludes to the possibility that Guaidó will be prosecuted and disqualified, along with other opposition leaders. The flat opposition leader is currently discussing the date of this primary consultation, scheduled for early 2023, in which everyone seems willing to participate. One of the topics of the current debates is to establish what to do and what mechanism to have planned if the Chavista legality vetoes the chosen candidate or increases repression again.
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