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21 Jan, 2020 16:21

Losing support in Venezuela, 'interim president' Guaido goes abroad to beg Mike Pompeo & EU for yet more help

Losing support in Venezuela, 'interim president' Guaido goes abroad to beg Mike Pompeo & EU for yet more help

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, whose popularity at home is waning at home after a year as "interim president" due to scandals and zero achievements, is going on tour to the US and Europe. Can he still seize power?

Around this time a year ago, hardly anyone outside of Venezuela had ever heard the name Juan Guaido. Truth be told, he was barely known inside the country.

But on January 23, 2019, the young opposition legislator burst onto the global scene after he declared himself the ‘interim’ president of Venezuela in a ‘swearing in’ ceremony before thousands of supporters in one of Caracas’ more affluent neighborhoods. Guaido claimed Nicolas Maduro had illegitimately usurped the country’s top post, and enjoyed the backing of the opposition-controlled National Assembly as well as the support of Maduro’s external adversaries.

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Venezuela’s opposition seemed buoyed and emboldened, and Guaido promised that Maduro’s days were numbered. 

A full year later, and Guaido is marking the first year of his ‘term’ outside of his country, but nonetheless surrounded by some of his staunchest supporters – the Colombian and the US governments. 

On Sunday, Guaido was greeted warmly by Colombian president Ivan Duque as he – defying a court-imposed travel ban – arrived for a regional anti-terrorism summit in Bogota, the first leg of a tour where he is looking to reassure representatives of allied governments that he is still the Venezuelan ‘president’. 

While US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo publically maintained that he is “the duly elected leader of Venezuela” (though he was only elected as a member of the legislature in 2015, finishing second in his district), there can be little doubt among Guaido’s allies that his fortunes have waned. 

Surely he will continue to receive the support of other allies in the region, including new ones in Bolivia and Uruguay, where right wing forces took power via a coup and a tight election, respectively. 

But Guaido lost a major ally in Mauricio Macri, who fell to the nationalist ticket that included Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner as vice president in Argentina’s general elections this past October. The new government quickly moved to revoke recognition of Guaido’s ‘ambassador’ to the country, and invited Maduro’s representative to the inauguration.

Guaido’s other key backers in Latin America, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Sebastian Pinera in Chile are busy dealing with their own internal problems, and do not lend much credibility to Guaido and his cause at the moment. The host of the Lima group himself, Martin Vizcarra, was ironically fighting off his own ouster. 

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Meanwhile, the Maduro government can count on regional powerhouses Argentina and Mexico to counter the diplomatic and possible economic pressures that had been exerted through the so-called Lima Group. Washington may be actively working to ‘dissuade’ them from doing so, but it’s clear that Guaido has lost friends in the hemisphere.

The right wing legislator proceeded to Europe nonetheless to meet with Venezuelan emigres, before attending the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. 

Many countries in Europe officially recognize Guaido, and the European parliament recently passed a resolution once again affirming that position. But here too, the terrain has shifted.

The most active European country when it comes to Venezuela has certainly been Spain, especially under former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and even his successor, the socialist party’s Pedro Sanchez. However, Sanchez recently formed a new coalition government with the left-wing Unidas Podemos alliance, which have historically been close to the Chavistas. It is unlikely that anyone in this newly-minted government will be eager to make Venezuela a sticking point either way in the near future.

Between Brexit, Yellow Vests protests in France and other issues, Guaido’s European associates also have their hands full. 

Things are not much better for Guaido back home either.

He has been facing numerous allegations of corruption and embezzlement as well as ties to paramilitary groups, not only from the Maduro government but also from opposition-sympathetic media and members of opposition parties.

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Earlier in January, the majority of lawmakers voted to oust him as head of Venezuela’s National Assembly and elected another opposition lawmaker, Luis Parra, to take his place. Guaido stated the vote was void, and held his own meeting with his backers at the office of the pro-opposition El Nacional newspaper where he claimed he was “re-elected” and “sworn in” as the parliament’s leader. For those keeping score, Guaido now claims to be president of an alternate national assembly as well as president of an ‘interim’ government.

Machinations aside, the corruption allegations combined with his inability to actually take the reins in Venezuela have meant a considerable decline in Guaido’s approval among opposition supporters. 

A poll for the Atlantic Council shows that 61 percent of respondents say he is weaker, and another poll by Datincorp say just 7 percent of opposition supporters are “very confident” in their leadership. The paltry turnouts for street demonstrations called by his camp are evidence of this.

Guaido will celebrate this dubious benchmark outside of the country he claims to be the head of, precisely because it is clear that he has little to show. The economic and political problems inside Venezuela have certainly not been resolved, but the Maduro government is now in a firmer position than they were a year prior, enough so that he can call for talks directly with the US

No one should expect any major breakthroughs so close to the US election, where Cuban and Venezuelan voters in the key state of Florida hold such sway. But if the recent revelation about the secret Caracas trip by Blackwater founder Erik Prince to meet with Venezuela’s Vice President Delcy Rodriguez, one of Maduro’s closest allies, is any indication, Guaido may be close to fading back into obscurity.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.