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Venezuela's Guaidó ends a troubled year in office with electoral hurdles ahead

Jim Wyss, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

When Juan Guaido burst onto the political scene in Venezuela a year ago Thursday, he was a young and obscure politician with an audacious plan. By harnessing the anger of hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans -- and with the support of the international community -- he intended to force Nicolas Maduro out of power, set up a transitional government and hold free elections.

For the first few months, it seemed plausible. As protests swelled, the United States and more than 50 other countries declared Guaido, the president of the National Assembly, Venezuela's legitimate leader. Amid mounting sanctions and saber rattling from Washington, U.S. diplomats promised that Maduro's days were numbered, that he had an airplane idling on the tarmac waiting to whisk him away to exile in Cuba.

A year later, the world is still waiting.

If Guaido's first year in power was about trying to force political change, his second one could be far more delicate -- trying to navigate at least one, perhaps two, elections that will determine his political survival.

Under Venezuela's constitution, the National Assembly that Guaido presides over must hold new elections this year, and that's reviving a long-running debate: Should the opposition participate in a flawed and unfair process and try to retain some power or should it boycott entirely?

Winston Flores is a Guaido ally and one of 35 Venezuelan opposition lawmakers now living in exile, many of whom fled the country after being threatened with arrest. Speaking from Guatemala, Flores said it's clear that Maduro is using the legislative elections to seize control of congress, the last opposition stronghold.

 

"We have to explain to the world that any election called by a regime that's not recognized by almost 60 countries is a sham, it's one more act of fraud committed against the people of Venezuela," he said. "We're not up against a democratic leadership, it shouldn't even be considered a dictatorship -- because a dictatorship might give in to pressure -- this is a regime of delinquents and criminals."

The opposition has boycotted elections before, including the 2018 presidential race, elections for the National Constituent Assembly in 2017 and parliamentary elections in 2005. In all three cases regime loyalists won by a landslide, leaving the opposition weaker.

"There will be legislative elections whether the opposition participates or not," said Geoff Ramsey, a Venezuela analyst with the Washington Office on Latin America, a D.C.-based think tank. "Abstaining on principle is a strategy that has already been played out and it hasn't played out in the opposition's favor."

Instead, Ramsey argues the opposition should learn from last year's presidential election in Bolivia, where candidates went in knowing that President Evo Morales would try to cling to power. Allegations of fraud eventually forced Morales to step down and flee to Mexico.

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