Five Misconceptions about the Crisis in Venezuela

Some media reports and analyses on the latest developments in Venezuela are repeating the following five misconceptions:

 1.      “Juan Guaidó proclaimed himself president of Venezuela”

 Juan Guaidó is the president of the National Assembly, a body that is controlled by the opposition. On January 10 a new presidential term started and, as required by the Constitution, the president-elect had to be sworn-in in front of the National Assembly. However, Nicolás Maduro was “reelected” last May in a sham election that the leading opposition parties were prevented from contesting it. Thus, on January 10 most Western governments refused to recognize the legitimacy of Maduro and instead correctly deemed that the National Assembly remained the only legitimate body of the Venezuelan government. The Legislature invoked articles 233, 333 and 350 of the Constitution, declaring Maduro a “usurper.” Article 233 states that given the permanent absence of the president, the president of the National Assembly would assume his/her duties until a new election is organized. Thus, Juan Guaidó didn’t declare himself president. He was invested with such powers by the democratically elected National Assembly that followed the Constitution given the illegitimate reelection of Nicolás Maduro.

 2.      “Venezuela is deeply divided”

Not anymore. That was certainly the case back in 2013 when Hugo Chávez died, and Nicolás Maduro succeeded him in power. However, the economic meltdown and ensuing humanitarian crisis, plus the grotesque levels of corruption of the regime, have turned an overwhelming majority of Venezuelans against Maduro. Most polls indicate that over 80% of Venezuelans want Maduro gone. A recent survey indicates that 83% recognize Guaidó as the interim-president.

 3.      “There is the risk of a civil war”

To have a war, both sides need to be armed. In the case of Venezuela, only one side—the government—has the guns. So far, Maduro has enjoyed the full support of the armed forces, the National Guard—which is responsible for brutally repressing protests—and the colectivos, which are armed thugs that terrorize the population on motorcycles with the assistance of the police and the National Guard. In previous instances of unrest, almost all the fatal victims have been civilians killed by the National Guard or the colectivos.

 4.      “The opposition is encouraging the Armed Forces to launch a coup”

The coup took place years ago and it was carried out by Maduro with the active involvement of the Armed Forces. In 2017 Maduro installed a puppet Constituent Assembly subverting the requirements established in the Constitution. Since then, that Assembly has taken away all the powers of the legitimately-elected National Assembly. The Supreme Court is under such complete control of the regime that since 2005 it hasn’t once ruled against the Executive. What the opposition is encouraging is for the Armed Forces to act in accordance to the Constitution.

 5.      “This is a struggle between the Trump administration and Maduro”

It is a struggle between the Venezuelan people and their dictator. Even though the United States has played an important role in denouncing Maduro and imposing targeted sanctions on his regime, it is not the only country to recognize Guaidó as interim president. So far, the following countries have done so too: Canada, Australia, Israel, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Ecuador, Georgia, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, and Peru, as well as the secretary general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro. The European Union is on the verge of recognizing the legitimacy of Guaidó too. Thus, this is not a standoff between Washington and Caracas. It is a showdown between the Venezuelan people, who has the support of most Western democracies, and Maduro, who has the backing of several dictatorships and autocracies such as Russia, China, Cuba and Turkey.