Venezuela’s increasingly byzantine political meltdown took its latest turn on Tuesday as opponents of authoritarian president Nicolás Maduro stormed the country’s parliament to reinstall Juan Guaidó as their leader.
Troops loyal to Maduro had surrounded the palm-dotted national assembly compound in Caracas in a bid to keep Guaidó and his supporters out after the president’s attempt to seize control of the parliament on Sunday.
But in frantic scenes that spread rapidly on social media, Guaidó and his backers were filmed physically forcing their way into the 19th-century capitol to cheers of “Viva Venezuela!”
Inside, Guaidó was sworn in for a second term as Venezuela’s caretaker leader, even though the auditorium’s electricity had been cut.
“In the name of those who have no voice, of the mothers who weep in the distance, of the teachers who are battling and the nurses and the students, of the political prisoners … in the name of Venezuela, I vow to fulfill the duties of interim president,” said Guaidó, who is recognized by more than 50 governments including the United States and United Kingdom but boasts little concrete power.
Guaidó’s wife, Fabiana Rosales, tweeted: “Now the struggle goes on, together with all Venezuelans we will rescue our country from dictatorship.”
The new decade has started with a bang in Venezuela, with Guaidó’s stuttering year-long campaign to topple Maduro suddenly reinvigorated by this week’s events.
Even the leftwing governments of Argentina and Mexico were critical of Maduro’s attempt to take over Venezuela’s parliament on Sunday, with Argentina’s new foreign minister warning such actions would condemn Hugo Chávez’s heir to “international isolation”.
Vanessa Neumann, Guaidó’s envoy to London, said she was convinced Maduro’s maneuver had backfired by reuniting Venezuela’s opposition behind her leader.
“Guaidó emerges stronger from all of this,” Neumann insisted. “He has more legitimacy even than he did in 2019.”
Geoff Ramsey, a Venezuela specialist at the Washington Office on Latin America, said Tuesday’s storming of the legislature represented “a clear symbolic victory” for Guaidó.
“But I don’t think this fundamentally alters the equation,” he added.
“The main problem for the opposition for the last two years has been how to get their democratic legitimacy to translate into real power on the ground. Unless Guaidó is able to get the masses into the streets in a way he hasn’t been able to for almost a year I don’t see much changing in the short term.”
The coming weeks could prove crucial for Guaidó, who shot to prominence last January after using his position as national assembly president to declare himself Venezuela’s rightful interim leader.
This Friday is the first anniversary of Maduro’s swearing-in, an event many western governments boycotted because of suspicions he stole the 2018 presidential election. 23 January marks a year since Guaidó publicly declared himself president.
Ramsey said both sides would exploit those politically charged dates to pose as the “clear victors in this conflict”.
“But the truth is that this is increasingly looking like a stalemate,” he said. “The only way forward is for the mainstream opposition and the regime to hash out the details of some kind of electoral way forwards [towards presidential elections].”