WWS Reacts

WWS Reacts: Venezuela’s Leadership Crisis

Feb 5, 2019
B. Rose Kelly
Woodrow Wilson School

A number of countries — including the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Germany, Sweden and Denmark — have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela. Meanwhile, President Nicolás Maduro argues firmly he is the legitimate leader.

What does the leadership clash mean for the country and its relationship with the United States? We discussed the crisis in Venezuela with Magaly Sanchez R, senior researcher from the Woodrow Wilson School's Office of Population Research and former professor at Central University of Venezuela.

Q. What are the implications of the United States and other countries supporting Juan Guaidó, Venezuela’s opposition leader, as president of the country?

Sanchez: The recognition of Guaidó as the interim president of Venezuela by the United States and a growing list of democracies around the world is extremely important politically, as it represents a widespread diplomatic rejection of Venezuela's dictatorial government and offers a pathway forward toward democratic reconstruction. For years the current government has mismanaged the economy and systematically violated human rights, pushing the country toward complete collapse with hyperinflation running in the millions, a poverty rate approaching 90 percent, and the massive emigration of 5 to 6 million people from the country. By recognizing the need for a democratic transition, the international community is recognizing the legitimacy of the current mobilization, in which hundreds of persons have been killed for peacefully protesting and thousands more have become political prisoners.

Q. Some consider the move by Guaidó a coups d’état. What would need to happen for Guaidó to officially overtake the presidency? Is it possible?

Sanchez: Guaidó’s political move is not a coup d’état. He was named president of the Venezuelan National Assembly on Jan. 5, 2019, representing his party Voluntad Popular, or Popular Will. The National Assembly was elected by a majority of Venezuelans in a parliamentary election in 2015 and is the only truly democratic institution in the nation, representing democracy in the face of a totalitarian and dictatorial regime (headed first by Hugo Chávez and now Nicolás Maduro).

On Jan. 10, 2019, Maduro proclaimed himself president of Venezuela for a second term, claiming victory in an unconstitutional election held on May 20, 2018 and recognized neither by the Venezuelan people nor by other democratic nation. In response to this usurpation of executive power by Maduro, the National Assembly, in concordance with Articles 333 and 350 of the Venezuelan Constitution, named National Assembly President Guaidó as Interim President of Venezuela, with the objective of creating a transitional government to call for democratic elections. This political process is strongly supported by millions of Venezuelans home and abroad.

Q. American diplomats were asked to leave Venezuela within 72 hours, but the United States ignored the deadline. What message is this sending, and what blowback could we see?

Sanchez: In resisting the departure order, the United States is questioning the Maduro government’s conduct in the crisis, condemning its widespread violation of human rights and affirming the existence of a very real humanitarian crisis, while simultaneously signaling its support for the democratic process that led to the naming of Guiadó as interim president. In this context, the Maduro administration’s authoritarian attempt at removal was ignored by the U.S. Embassy and its Consulates, which only sent non-essential staff and family members outside the country, leaving senior U.S. representatives in place to work in concert with Interim President Guaidó to prepare for a democratic transition. 

Q. Venezuela is already in shambles economically and politically. How will these events help or harm the country?

Sanchez: Venezuela is experiencing the worst economic performance in its history under President Maduro, and a political change is essential to end the crisis and stem the further collapse of the nation’s economy and society and open a path to reconstruction. Research and analysis have consistently confirmed the social, economic, and political disaster caused by the model imposed on Venezuela by Presidents Chavez and Maduro, which has fomented only destruction, societal collapse, political persecution, human rights violations, record levels of criminal and political violence, and ultimately the massive exit of human capital and labor from the country. Hopefully we are now witnessing the end of an authoritarian regime and the beginning of democracy in Venezuela.

WWS Reacts is a series of interviews with Woodrow Wilson School experts addressing current events.