By Ricardo Vaz
CARACAS, Venezuela, (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan anti-government forces could be set for bloody battles in the coming weeks over the continuation of the self-proclaimed “interim government.”
According to multiple reports, three major opposition parties (Democratic Action, Justice First and A New Era) will withdraw their backing for the US-endorsed experiment led by former lawmaker Juan Guaidó.
An opposition delegation allegedly expressed its position in meetings with US officials this week in Washington DC. The Financial Times quoted a “senior” opposition figure speaking of plans to “redesign everything without Guaidó as interim president.”
The move is reportedly being resisted by Guaidó’s Popular Will faction. Party founder Leopoldo López, who is currently abroad fleeing charges, confirmed discussions to end the “interim government” but stressed that the far-right organization was not in agreement.
CNN went on to claim that Washington was ready to rescind its “recognition” of Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, quoting an anonymous “diplomatic source.” A US official responded that the Biden administration intended to continue recognizing the anti-government structure, but that it was up to the opposition to ensure it remained in a “recognizable state.”
For his part, Guaidó downplayed the “opinions” of high-ranking opposition figures, claiming he retained support from the White House and vowing to stay on until the next presidential election. The beleaguered frontman recently met the US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols, who reiterated Washington’s endorsement of the opposition and calls for a “negotiated settlement” in Venezuela.
The US has been trying to force the Nicolás Maduro government to reenter into talks with the rightwing sectors as a precondition for any changes to its wide-reaching sanctions policy. Since 2017, the US Treasury Department has levied a string of measures against the Venezuelan economy, including an oil embargo, in an attempt to trigger regime change.
Guaidó proclaimed himself “interim president” in January 2019 and secured recognition from Washington and allied governments. Over the subsequent months, he would unsuccessfully attempt to break the armed forces, lead a military putsch and contract a paramilitary invasion in an effort to oust Maduro.
The hardline politician gradually lost support amidst opposition ranks. A sector broke with the US-backed factions in late 2019, causing Guaidó to lose the National Assembly (AN) presidency. One year later, the ruling Socialist Party (PSUV) re-took control of the country’s parliament, forcing right-wing parties to set up a parallel legislature with US backing. It has twice renewed its own mandate, despite the Venezuelan Supreme Court ruling it unconstitutional.
Democratic Action, Justice First and A New Era could block the renewal of the “interim government” once the defunct, opposition-controlled AN votes on it. The factions threatened something similar in late 2021 but ultimately backed down and just stripped the US-backed apparatus of some of its bureaucracy.
According to Reuters, the three groupings want to shift the focus to the upcoming presidential elections, scheduled for 2024. Mainstream opposition parties will reportedly hold a primary contest in mid-2023.
Guaidó has also bled support on the international stage, with the number of countries that still recognize him down to around a dozen. Most recently, the Organization of American States (OAS) likewise attempted to expel the Venezuelan opposition’s representative.
Beyond internal opposition squabbles, the embattled figurehead’s recognition affects the management of a number of foreign-based Venezuelan assets, chief among them oil subsidiary CITGO.
US backing for Guaidó saw him take control and appoint a new board for CITGO. Any changes to the leadership structure could mean more turmoil for the already troubled company.
The US $8-billion-worth refiner is currently undergoing a court-ordered auction of its shares to satisfy international arbitration claims. The process was driven by Canadian miner Crystallex to collect a 2016 $1.4 billion award over the nationalization of a mine in Venezuela under the Hugo Chávez government in 2008.
A number of other multinational corporations likewise have their sights set on CITGO to collect on arbitration rulings, chief among them ConocoPhillips which landed a massive $8.5 billion award at the World Bank’s ICSID tribunal.
Holders of the defaulted PDVSA 2020 bond are following the case as well since half the shares of the US-based subsidiary were pledged as collateral. The US Treasury Department has blocked transactions with the PDVSA 2020 bond as well as any efforts to seize CITGO without a special license in an effort to protect the assets under Venezuelan opposition control.
Guaidó, who also took over legal representation before US courts, has come under fire for actions that have endangered Venezuela’s most prized foreign asset. The opposition’s legal team has failed to show up in court, struck alleged under-the-table deals with creditors and engaged in suspected conflicts of interest.