The early days of 2019 were a time of hope for freedom lovers in Venezuela. On January 5, Juan Guaidó, became President of the National Assembly; just a few days later, after chavista leader Nicolás Maduro was sworn in for a second term after an election that was widely viewed as suspicious, Guaidó told attendees at a huge rally that Maduro was a dictator and a usurper and that, in accordance with the Venezuelan Constitution, he, Guaidó, would assume the nation’s presidency and, as he wrote shortly thereafter in a Washington Post op-ed, “restore democracy in Venezuela.”
Things looked promising. On January 23, Guaidó declared himself president. He was quickly recognized as such by the U.S., Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and the Organization of American States, as well as by sixty-odd other countries around the world. It was hoped that the Venezuelan military would act in accordance with the wishes of democratic-minded Venezuelans and of international supporters of liberty by compelling Maduro to step down and hand over power to Guaidó.
Alas, one country in the Western hemisphere was conspicuously missing from that list of Guaidó’s supporters: Cuba, of course. And thanks to Cuba, it proved harder to oust Maduro than some observers – and Guaidó himself – expected. For Maduro, it turned out, was not as dumb as he looks. During his presidency, the highest ranking officers in the Venezuelan military had been collaborating closely with Cuban officials who had been sent by the Castro regime and stationed in Venezuela to participate in an effort – a successful one, alas – to ruthlessly purge Maduro’s armed forces of anyone who was suspected of anything but total loyalty to the regime. So it was that the military on which Guaidó had counted for support did everything it could to prop up Maduro.
Meanwhile, allies of Maduro in the U.S. were doing everything they could to prevent democracy from coming to Venezuela. In the spring, the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, D.C., was occupied by members of Code Pink and other radical-left groups that, in the wake of the Trump administration’s recognition of Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela, sought to keep any diplomats appointed by Guaidó out of the embassy. This spectacle, played out on the leafy streets of Georgetown, was a disgraceful example of free people using their own freedom to help deny freedom to others.
It was all quite dispiriting. With Maduro in firm control of the military – not to mention the apparatus of government, the judiciary, and the police – the only significant body that stood up against the power of the regime was the legislature, the National Assembly, of which Guaidó continued to serve as president. Only five days into 2020, Maduro made his move to squelch that last outpost of opposition. On his orders, as NPR’s Scott Neuman reported, Venezuelan National Guardsmen “in riot gear” physically prevented Guaidó and other anti-Maduro legislators from attending a special session of the Assembly, where the plan for the day was to elect a new Assembly president. Since Guaidó’s allies make up a majority of the Assembly, it was expected that he would be expeditiously re-elected to that post. Instead, he ended up in what Neuman described as a “scuffle” with Maduro’s thugs and walked away with his suit torn. With him and his allies missing from the conclave, the supporters of Maduro who were allowed to enter the chamber swore in one of their own, Luis Parra, as their new leader. Later the same day, however, members of the anti-Maduro parliamentary majority, meeting at the offices of the opposition newspaper El Nacional, overturned that outrageous action – which, Neuman noted, had been taken without a formal vote – and re-elected Guaidó.
“Sunday’s events,” wrote Neuman, “leave open the question of who controls the legislature, and the fight for control is likely to continue.” And needless to say it does not look as if the larger question – that of who controls Venezuela itself – will be settled anytime soon, either.