Venezuelanalysis is proud to present our new column dedicated to big picture political analysis titled, “Crisis & Critique.” Our columnist is Ociel Alí López, a Venezuelan sociologist specializing in popular culture and communication. Each month, Ociel will provide us with a structural analysis of Venezuela’s ever fluid correlation of forces, examining the current political and social dynamics underpinning Chavismo, the right-wing opposition, and US imperialism. This week, Ociel takes a look at the state of Guaido’s coup effort in the wake of Bachelet’s visit and amid new negotiations with the Maduro government.
Guaido’s uprising is going through its terminal phrase. He does not yet appear to have reached his end as leader, as he still produces and consolidates an important consensus among the opposition. What has decisively failed is his attempt to form a government without elections with the backing of the hawks in Washington. In almost six months since his self-swearing in as “interim president,” it has become palpable that his governing is truly impossible. The coup de grace was delivered by Michelle Bachelet when she visited the National Assembly, of which he is president and a deputy. The UN high commissioner for human rights did not recognize him as president of the republic, but she did propose a roadmap for pressuring the Maduro government, which Guaido accepted even though it represents a deviation from Washington’s strategy.
The Trump administration invested a large part of its political and diplomatic capital in overthrowing Maduro, especially in the first six months of 2019. And it didn’t achieve it. Pence, Pompeo, Bolton, and Abrams squandered a valuable amount of time with disastrous results. Since talks began in Norway, the hawks have opted to wash their hands of the matter and leave Guaido to his own fate.
The fracture in the opposition deepens with every defeat. The faction of the opposition favored by the US government is stronger online than it is in the streets, where it grows weaker every day. Voluntad Popular (VP), Leopoldo Lopez and Juan Guaido’s minoritarian radical party with only 14 seats in the 165-seat legislature, was chosen by the hawks to lead a new offensive that has not only been defeated on its own terms, but VP has been accused of “appeasement” by its own radical sectors after promoting dialogue with the Maduro government under the auspices of Norway. As the Venezuelan popular saying goes, “they were left without the goat and without the leash.” That is, the much-anticipated invasion never came and the actors that could maneuver in the national political sphere, namely the large opposition parties, were displaced by those who imposed a media-driven politics that looks to foreign powers for solutions. And now what?
The anti-government march on July 5 demonstrated that the opposition now does not even mobilize the bases of its own parties. Looking at the social media feeds of the most radical and mobilized opposition currents, it’s clear that they blame Guaido for failing in his attempt to govern and for his inefficient endeavor to secure foreign military intervention. Also weighing heavy are the allegations of corruption on the part of his team in the provision of humanitarian aid, exposed by opposition media outlets.
From January of this year, when Guaido swore himself in, it was foreseeable that street mobilizations would not be enough to oust Maduro, not even those of January 23, whose widespread support was even evident in hardcore protests in some Caracas barrios. What was anticipated was some kind of direct action by the US armed forces, or those of a neighboring country, so that the escalation of the conflict in the media actually reached the national territory. The climax, which took place on February 23 around the attempted forced entry of humanitarian aid, quickly petered out. The same thing happened on April 30 with the coup attempt. They were very weak movements that drew Maduro and the armed forces closer together – the opposite of what was sought.
But the decline of Guaido does not mean a definitive victory for Chavismo. It can even debilitate it as we will see.
The three-day visit to Venezuela by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet on June 19-21 and subsequent release of her report on July 5 can be read as a change of scene in the Venezuelan conflict.
During her stay, Bachelet met with President Maduro in the presidential palace and with Juan Guaido in the National Assembly. This may surprise us if we remember that since January over fifty foreign governments have recognized Guaido as “interim president,” although he has not been able to exercise any functions beyond naming “ambassadors.” Bachelet put an end to the farce and showed things as they really are, something which the international community has not dared to do: she removed the virtual throne from under Guaido and recognized Maduro as the only president.
Bachelet’s report effectively displaces the conflict to the political arena because it is accepted enthusiastically by the opposition, even though the document doesn’t repeat its mantra of the “end of the usurpation,” and is welcomed by Maduro, who made two important gestures: the release of 22 “political prisoners” and the rumored proposal for Bolivarian deputies to return to their seats in the National Assembly, which they had abandoned since the emergence of the National Constituent Assembly in August 2017. In this way, Maduro opens up the possibility of negotiation, in which the Norway experience can play a pivotal role.
The report presents interesting options for both parties in the conflict. For Maduro, it legitimates his refusal to recognize Guaido’s “interim presidency” and it sidelines Washington in the dispute for hegemony over the Venezuela question. For the opposition, which suffered another defeat and internal division following Bachelet’s recognition of Maduro, the report allows it to double down on its call for foreign military intervention. The radicals on either side have simultaneously launched a broadside of criticisms at the ex-president, but significant sectors in both camps have recognized the legitimacy of the report, which sets the table for Norway-mediated talks.
Chavismo in its trench
The elements of cohesion in Chavismo are more external than internal. Chavismo closes ranks when confronting an enemy force of the proportions of the governments of the US or Colombia, or when the opposition resorts to violence. Once the “Guaido effect” is exposed as an impotent act, the Maduro government is left standing without tangible opponents and begins to face a crisis situation in which it is itself completely helpless. That is when the seams in the institutional armor covering the government become visible, due to its inability to control an economy that is already liberalized.
What has also become apparent recently is the government’s lack of control over state security forces. Obviously, Chavismo resents having to confront situations like the death by alleged torture of Captain Acosta Arevalo on June 29, as well as the arrest of grassroots Bolivarian militant Jose Ramon Rodriguez on July 5. In the first case, arrests have been, and in the second, Ramon Rodriguez has been freed. However, the accusations of grave misconduct on the part of the security forces, detailed in the Bachelet Report, are a concern shared by some currents of Chavismo.
Other sectors, including the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, reject the Bachelet report. Even now Maduro has demonstrated – and Bachelet has recognized it – that he is making moves to set the stage for negotiations: is there movement towards a power-sharing agreement or rather tactical maneuvers to remain in power?
Regardless, it is undeniable that negotiations driven by Norway open the way for a scenario that can overcome the stalemate in the internal political game. A shift in political and diplomatic relations is needed in order to extricate Venezuela from its current economic quagmire, which is impacting the region.
Ociel Alí López is a Venezuelan researcher who has published numerous written and multimedia works. He is dedicated to analyzing Venezuelan society for several European and Latin American media outlets. He is a co-founder of alternative Venezuelan state television station Avila TV in 2006. He is the recipient of the CLACSO/ASDI researcher prize and the Britto Garcia literature award