Juan Guaidó Freezing as US-Venezuela Relations Warm Up

  • The self-declared Venezuelan Interim President is facing challenges on several fronts.
  • U.S.-Venezuela relations that hint at renewed diplomacy push Guaidó to one side. 
  • International developments once again demonstrate U.S. authority in Latin America. 

Why is Guaidó’s heat level Freezing? 

Answer: As the Venezuelan opposition’s relevance begins to fade, Guaidó is colder by the day. 

As political crisis deepens in Venezuela, opposition leader Juan Guaidó is experiencing challenges on all sides; progress is stagnating and the opposition is suffering from waning impact in the country, with President Nicolás Maduro rising to an increased importance for Western leaders. 

Guaidó, who transitioned from grassroots to mainstream politics and rose up as the most significant voice for democratic restoration in Venezuela, is losing steam and heat as the opposition makes little headway. As the head of the National Assembly in 2019, Guaidó cited the logic that this was the only democratically elected office and as such, declared himself the interim President of Venezuela during the 2019 protests, as the political crisis came to a head. In his new role, Guaidó stood as a unifying symbol of rebellion against the Maduro regime and a key victory for the opposition movement.

Initially, Guaidó was recognised internationally as the legitimate leader of Venezuela, as Maduro’s fraudulent 2018 election had essentially left the country without a president. However, in 2020, Guaidó failed to secure re-election as he was barred from the legislative chamber of the National Assembly and replaced by Luis Parra, an opposition politician often suspected of being co-opted by Maduro. After this defeat, the US and EU, while still maintaining that Guaidó is an important pro-democracy figure, could no longer recognise his presidency as constitutional. 

The increased presence of pro-Maduro actors in the National Assembly and the loss of his presidential legitimacy, are significant blows to both the goals of Guaidó and the opposition movement as a whole. 

Who is changing Guaidó’s heat level? 

Answer: The development and reopening of US-Venezuelan diplomacy and fragmentation in the opposition are pushing Guaidó to the margin.

Evidence of President Maduro’s regaining of ground is the leader’s warming relations with the U.S., as new talks about energy security look to revoke previous measures taken against Caracas, and inadvertently undermine Guaidó’s leadership. 

 There is still much skepticism in the Biden administration surrounding the Maduro regime, with politicians from across the aisle showing resistance to renewed diplomacy. However, these new talks indicate the U.S.’ recognition of Maduro as the head of state and whether the U.S. likes it or not, bolsters Maduro’s credibility and international posture. This return to dealings with President Maduro and the implicit recognition of his authority that comes with it is part of the decline in Guaidó’s heat level, who will now have to face his international reputation’s decrease in significance. 

This waning in influence is not only felt abroad in the lack of recognition for Guaidó but also domestically, as the opposition as a whole is failing to secure meaningful victories and is suffering from fragmentation within its ranks. Prominent opposition figures hold tentative ties, united against Maduro but not necessarily with each other. While the opposition has celebrated some minor, more symbolic victories as of late, namely winning a regional election in Barinas, this is of little real value; the divides in the opposition outweigh any electoral success they may have enjoyed. 

The divide is centered on electoral participation and the ability to place full support on one candidate. Guaidó has been vocal about the issue, and while celebrating the victory in Barinas, further implores the opposition to seek negotiation with the government to secure fairer electoral conditions and an end to political conflict. Guaidó himself didn’t cast a ballot, despite his party, Voluntad Popular putting up candidates. 

Guaidó is struggling to unify the opposition as many believe that the parameters of the electoral system are inherently corrupt and do little to further the opposition movement. Amongst those who do participate, there is little political consensus. Issues both domestically and abroad are effectively bringing the leader to a freezing halt. 

What is driving Guaidó? 

Answer: Guaidó has always stood against the Maduro regime, and seeks the democratic restoration of Venezuela. 

Guaidó has a long history of opposition to the Maduro regime and it is one that has only consolidated with time. The leader’s motivations and goals are representative of those of the opposition movement in general: a restoration of Venezuelan democracy and the end of political persecution. These motivations lead him to do what he can in light of the new U.S. Venezuelan talks.

Over the years, Guaidó has employed various strategies and has made both international and domestic calls for action against Maduro and Chavez as well. From organising student protests to founding various organisations that advocate for peace. These actions overlapped into the political mainstream when in 2015 he went on hunger strike to demand democratic parliamentary elections, and four years later declared himself President.  

At every turn, however, Guaidó’s, and by and large the opposition’s progress has been stonewalled by the regime. Political arrests of key figures, (including Leopoldo Lopez, Guaidó’s political mentor) the creation of a constituent assembly as an alternative legislature to circumvent challenges to Maduro’s power, as well as the censorship of anti-Maduro media have all contributed to the freezing state of the leader, as he attempts to do what little he can to act on his motivations of democratic rule. 

The leader has called for pro-democratic thinking to be prioritised going forward with any deals made with Maduro surrounding oil, and that following the Russian oil ban, President Biden should be wary of exchanging business with one dictator for business with another. The U.S. delegation did also meet with Guaidó, but the likelihood of his call being answered is low, as the Biden administration’s conditions for lifting sanctions are more related to the release of U.S. citizens imprisoned in Venezuela. 

For now, Guaidó is somewhat helpless to the powers around him. The leader will only hope that the Biden administration will prioritise democracy and condition the lifting of sanctions to the improvement of the political crisis in Venezuela. However, with the Russian oil ban underway, it’s unlikely the U.S. will be so patient to meet its oil demand. 

What does this mean for you? 

Answer: In the wake of the Russian invasion, Venezuela is one of several developing situations to watch. 

The meeting and talks of a U.S. delegation with Maduro are themselves a direct result of the Russian invasion and an example of how the balance of international relations is so easily shifted by what seem at first unrelated events. The U.S. prioritised Russian oil as a replacement for that of Venezuela since 2019 when sanctions were first placed on Caracas. Now, President Biden is considering the viability of switching back to Venezuelan oil to meet demands following his Russian oil ban. The aforementioned reservations felt by the U.S. Congress to do business with Maduro are significant, but as the country with the highest oil consumption in the world, the U.S. demand to find an alternative is perhaps more significant. 

The U.S. is not the only interested party either. Should sanctions be lifted, it opens the door for European corporations, like Spain’s Repsol and France’s Maurel & Prom, as well as Indian corporation ONGC, who are all seeking U.S. permission to trade Venezuelan oil.  As the international community readies itself to do business with a regime that has been condemned for years, the illusion of any international solidarity is embarrassingly fading, as international actors like Biden and leaders within Europe prioritise strategic and economic needs over support for Guaidó. 

Venezuelan oil production will need significant investment to meet international demands, which further solidifies the recognition of Maduro while simultaneously highlighting the U.S. as the arbitrator of the situation. As European companies wait for a green light from Biden, the U.S. has once again emerged as the authoritative voice in Latin American politics. The investment would be a golden opportunity for Maduro to bring in higher government spending and bolster his image, as trade would increase in all sectors, depending on his ability to justify why he is working with ‘the enemy’.

Further afield, Maduro can look to other allies like Iran, with whom he has been furthering strategic operations in regard to oil. A significant part of this relationship lies in the fact both countries have been sanctioned by the U.S., and it is likely that by suddenly cooperating with their common antagonist, Maduro would be risking worsening relations, in light of the proposed 20-year cooperation deal

Overall, the new and tentative reactivation of U.S.-Venezuelan diplomacy is a knock-on effect of the Russian crisis and is one that forces more international recognition of Maduro as the President of Venezuela, a freezing blow for Guaidó who can do little but watch events unfold before him.