Venezuela’s Rightful President Needs White House Support

The last chance to oust Nicolás Maduro without invasion
January 19, 2019 Updated: January 22, 2019

The United States and its allies hold the key to Venezuela’s recovery after two decades of socialist devastation. Their diplomatic support can make or break the campaign to establish Juan Guaidó as the legitimate and recognized president.

The defiant 35-year-old industrial engineer chairs Venezuela’s National Assembly, the opposition-led legislature that Nicolás Maduro’s dictatorship refuses to recognize. As explained by columnist and political scientist María Teresa Romero, the National Assembly is the last vestige of democracy left in the government under Chavista rule.

From the centrist social-democratic Popular Will party, Guaidó was virtually unknown prior to Jan. 10. That’s when he challenged Maduro’s illegitimate inauguration for a second six-year term, declared the presidency vacant, and announced that he would instead lead the country, as mandated by the Constitution.

Now, Guaidó is asking the military, civilians, and the international community to acknowledge him as interim president. With sufficient support, he can then lead a transitional government and call for free and fair elections.

However, he is short on time and resources, and he faces an ominous political persecution from the regime. Such has been the fate of other opposition leaders such as Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado, and Guaidó would be of little use behind bars or banished from the country. The regime’s intelligence service already kidnapped and interrogated him over the weekend, before subsequently releasing him.

The Law on Guaidó’s Side

As noted by Guaidó and his supporters, the May 2018 presidential election in Venezuela was a sham. Backed by Cuban agents who dominate the Chavista regime, Maduro is a usurper who continues the diabolical legacy of the brutal and militant socialist Hugo Chávez.

Without free speech or open nominations for candidates, the opposition parties abstained from participating and called for a boycott. Only 46 percent of registered voters turned out, the lowest level in recent Venezuelan history and markedly below the 70 percent average from previous elections.

The Venezuelan Constitution, passed in 1999 under Chávez, states in articles 233 and 350 that the National Assembly can take command if the courts remove the president. The Venezuelan people have the authority to reject a regime that jeopardizes democratic principles and human rights.

Venezuela’s Supreme Court has operated in exile since July 2017, when the regime packed the official one with loyalists. It deems Maduro a convicted criminal and backs Guaidó.

International Pressure Reaching Climax

At this moment, 48 nations—including the United States, EU members, and Latin-American neighbors in the Lima Group—have already rejected Maduro’s touted presidency. Ecuador, a socialist-inclined ally for over a decade, has joined in denouncing the regime, and this month, Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno withdrew his ambassador from Caracas.

Paraguay also broke relations with Venezuela altogether after Maduro’s inauguration. Even the meek Organization of American States recently voted to “not recognize the legitimacy of Nicolas Maduro’s new term.”

The momentum needs to build toward the planned Jan. 23 mass demonstration in favor of Guaidó and the rule of law. Beyond rejecting Maduro, nations should issue statements to recognize Guaidó as the rightful interim president; Brazil has already done so and shown the way forward.

Only overwhelming political and social pressure will get the corrupted military to switch sides. To facilitate that, the National Assembly has offered amnesty for army officers who rebel against the regime.

Maduro has already isolated himself. Only six of 18 Latin American nations continue to support him: Bolivia, El Salvador, Cuba, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Uruguay.

Elsewhere, his main allies are Turkey, Belarus, Russia, China, and Iran, to some degree because they would like to see their loans repaid. If the transitional government assures the debts will be honored, Maduro could further lose support.

Foreign Military Intervention?

There is no guarantee that the military and police will side with Guaidó, and their fear of doing so would mean a worsening of an almost impossibly worse scenario. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), for example, believes military intervention is the only solution left to restore democracy in a country so lawless and corrupt.

President Donald Trump has said that all options are on the table. That could include providing support to resistance fighters or perhaps a limited engagement to protect the National Assembly, as suggested by Romero, ideally with a regional coalition.

The likelihood of a quagmire is great, though, with so many bad actors present, including Marxist terrorists such as the FARC and National Liberation Army of Colombia. There appears to be little support for a costly long-term presence and reconstruction, both in the United States and throughout Latin America. All of the prominent Latin American nations with conservative presidents—Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Colombia—have rejected the idea, deeming it too unpredictable. Further, their military expertise and economic capacity would struggle with such an awkward foreign invasion.

Even in Venezuela, a majority of the opposition are reluctant, according to a February poll. They are concerned a U.S. military presence could backfire and validate Maduro’s anti-imperialist rhetoric, although his apologists say there is an economic war against Venezuela either way.

Hearts and Minds: A War for Legitimacy

Guaidó’s plan can only succeed if the vast majority of nations side with him and embolden the armed forces and police to do the same. Recent developments have shown that the international community is ready to isolate Maduro further. Trump can lead this movement, along with Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, and help put an end to the socialist nightmare that has directly claimed over 5,000 lives, jailed hundreds of activists, and led to a growing exodus of 3 million people.

Neighboring countries have their own problems and can’t withstand the Venezuelan refugee crisis forever. It’s only a matter of time before a country with a population five times the size of El Salvador starts sending caravans north.

Inordinate times call for inordinate measures, and the Guaidó plan appears to be the last-road exit before a dead end into a new Cuba harboring terrorists and other criminal gangs. The United States can and should step up its game against Maduro and back this legal, available solution endorsed by the world’s democratic governments.

Fergus Hodgson is the founder and executive editor of Latin American intelligence publication Antigua Report. 

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.