Venezuela votes out US-backed opposition leader
Opposition lawmakers in Venezuela have voted to dissolve the ‘interim government’ formed under their one-time leader, Juan Guaido, a main rival to the country’s ruling socialist party and once a darling of the US foreign policy establishment.
Holding their vote over a Zoom call, the opposition-controlled National Assembly moved to reorganize their movement on Friday, with 72 lawmakers voting in favor of disbanding the legislature compared to just 29 opposed. Guaido’s term at the head of the assembly, as well as his ‘interim presidency’ declared in 2019 with the blessing of the US, are now set to end on January 5.
“Venezuela needs new machinery in this struggle,” lawmaker Juan Miguel Matheus of the opposition Justice First party said after the vote, adding that Guaido’s tenure as interim leader “was something that was supposed to be temporary, but it became something perpetual.”
Guaido and his supporters, meanwhile, have argued that dissolving the interim government could spell the demise of any unified opposition movement, insisting it will only bolster the power and influence of Maduro, who has been deemed an illegitimate leader by Washington and a long list of allies.
“This is not about defending Guaido. This is about not losing the important tools that we have in this struggle,” Guaido said.
The shake-up in the opposition leadership follows several years of failed efforts to oust Maduro from power, including a series of heated street protests and an outright coup attempt in 2019. While Guaido and fellow opposition leaders failed to inspire mass defections among the security forces as hoped, the ill-fated putsch enjoyed open support from US officials.
In addition to eliminating the temporary government, the assembly said it would establish a new committee to monitor the state assets it still controls, which includes a quantity of gold bullion stored at the Bank of England, as well as the American oil firm Citgo – even as it continues to be majority-owned by PDVSA, a state-controlled energy giant operated by President Maduro’s government in Caracas.
The National Assembly will also create a special panel to negotiate with Maduro, aiming to take part in another round of elections slated for 2024.
While opposition candidates were set to gain control over the legislature following elections in 2015, the results were later invalidated in the courts and the government opted to launch an entirely new body known as the National Constituent Assembly. Since then, Maduro’s opponents have effectively led a government-in-exile, with many lawmakers conducting official business from foreign countries.