Venezuela’s Guaidó faces key test in leadership vote

CARACAS (AP) — Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó faced an internal test of his authority in a key vote yesterday as he campaigned to oust President Nicolás Maduro and end Venezuela’s economic and humanitarian crisis.

The opposition-controlled National Assembly is expected to decide whether to keep Guaidó as its leader for a second year.

Guaidó also came under pressure to articulate a fresh vision for removing Maduro — something he has not been able to accomplish.

“The big question for this year is whether Guaidó will be able to use his waning political strength to guide his coalition through such a rocky period,” said Geoff Ramsey, a researcher at the Washington Office on Latin America research centre.

“Opposition unity is already fraying at the edges, and the armed forces appear less likely than ever to abandon Maduro.”

File photo shows National Assembly President Juan Guaido, leaping on to a vehicle to speak to supporters as he visits different points of anti-government protest in Venezuela. PHOTO: AP

Guaidó declared presidential powers over Venezuela in January 2019, saying Maduro’s reelection was illegitimate because the most popular opposition parties and political leaders had been disqualified from running.

The United States (US) and more than 50 other nations declared Maduro’s leadership invalid and endorsed Guaidó.

Venezuela sits atop vast oil and mineral resources, but it has been imploding economically and socially in recent years.

Critics blame the plunge on years of failed socialist rule and corruption, while Maduro’s allies say US sanctions are taking a toll on the economy.

The South American nation’s 30 million people suffer soaring inflation and shortages of gasoline, running water and electricity, among basic services.

Maduro, who took over after the 2013 death of former President Hugo Chávez, says Guaidó is a puppet of the US. Maduro also said he is determined to win control of the National Assembly in elections later this year.

“Despite perversions of the imperialist United States against Venezuela during 2019, we’ve managed to hold onto our independence, peace and stability,” Maduro tweeted.

“I know that in 2020, with all of our efforts we will enjoy more economic prosperity.”

The two men remain locked in a power struggle. However, Maduro maintains military backing and control over most branches of the government, despite the deepening crisis and hard-hitting financial sanctions from the United States.

Guaidó said he is confident he will maintain his seat as head of the congress and press ahead with the campaign to oust Maduro.

Weeks ahead of the vote deciding Guaidó’s leadership, the opposition-dominated congress changed its rules, allowing lawmakers who have fled Venezuela for fear of persecution by Maduro’s government to debate and vote from a distance. US officials recently brought several key opposition leaders to Washington to discuss strategies for rallying around Guaidó.

Ramsey said this is an important moment for Venezuela’s opposition. “Guaidó will have to not only re-energise his base and convince them to stay engaged, but keep his coalition in line as well,” he said. “And the clock is ticking.”