By Roger D. Harris
October 12, 2022
The seamless official policy of the Trump and Biden administrations has been that Juan Guaidó is Venezuela’s “interim president.” The US is thusly caught in the self-inflicted fiction of having to deal with a powerless puppet because it does not accept the democratically elected Nicolás Maduro. Although Trump has at least retreated to Mar-a-Lago, Guaidó keeps on asking to be invited to the party, much to Biden’s embarrassment.
A related conundrum of its own making is the US sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry and at the same time needing the fuel. It wasn’t so long ago that Venezuela supplied the US with a significant amount of its daily petroleum consumption. Now Uncle Sam finds himself confronted with price inflation at the gas pump and the inevitability of negotiating with a government it does not recognize.
Similarly, the US is faced with an influx of Venezuelan immigrants fleeing economic conditions themselves caused by the US sanctions. “Because the US ended diplomatic relations with the Maduro government,” the New York Times reports, “Venezuelan migrants cannot be easily sent back – a key reason they are arriving at the border in waves,” in the first place.
Juan Guaidó – pretend president of Venezuela
When the US first picked the then 35-year-old US security asset as president of Venezuela, it must have come as a surprise to his constituents. A national poll showed that 81% of them did not recognize the name Juan Guaidó, who had never even run in a national election.
Guaidó had become head of Venezuela’s National Assembly in January 2019 when, in a rotational scheme, it was his party’s turn to designate that position. The US government didn’t care for the leftist Venezuelan president and vice president. So, disregarding the people’s democratic vote, the US chose to anoint the person who just became third in the leadership succession according to the Venezuelan constitution.
A measure of the US’s imperial influence, over fifty countries initially followed the US dictate and recognized Guaidó. Always more popular abroad than at home, Guaidó went on an international tour, where he was fawned upon by both US President Trump and House Speaker Pelosi. Meanwhile, the UN and a majority of the sovereign states of the world continued to recognize the Maduro government.
Currently, Mr. Guaidó is still the designated “interim president” of Venezuela for the US, although only a handful of other states still maintain that fantasy. He is no longer even a deputy in the National Assembly, obviating any constitutional claim to leadership.
Last March and June, high level US delegations visited Venezuela to meet directly with President Maduro, while snubbing the hapless Guaidó. When Biden hosted his “Democracy Summit” for the Organization of American States (OAS), also in June, Juan Guaidó was not on the guest list of hemispheric heads of state.
This October 6, nineteen countries voted to oust Guaidó’s delegation as the recognized representative of Venezuela at the OAS foreign ministers meeting; only four voted in favor. Although the vote failed to get the required 24-vote supermajority for expulsion, Guaidó’s “envoy” chose to forego attending the meeting in Lima. The Peruvian capital had previously lent its name to the “Lima Group” of anti-Venezuelan nations. But, as the current Peruvian foreign minister Cesar Landa noted, that group has “ceased to exist.”
New York Times counsels the US empire on how to be more efficient
William Neuman in a The New York Times opinion piece advises: “The US cannot uphold the fiction that Juan Guaidó is the president of Venezuela.” The former Times reporter and Andes region bureau chief offers to help the imperialists with their “incoherence” problem.
Noting that “the Guaidó gambit has failed and that most Venezuelans, and most of the international community, have moved on,” he states: “the fact is that Mr. Maduro is president of Venezuela and Mr. Guaidó is not.”
Neuman praises Guaidó for showing courage. And, indeed, it takes nerve for the pretend president to show his face in public. Guaidó’s championing of repressive US sanctions against Venezuela has made him profoundly unpopular. In a recent video, Guaidó gets physically roughed up by his own people on a visit to the state of Sucre.
Neuman admits that the US-backed opposition “never had a viable plan, beyond vague hopes for a military coup or for US intervention.” Although these are far from democratic forms of political expression, the former Times reporter still maintains that the opposition is the “primary political force in the country committed to democracy and the defense of human rights.”
The US has expended tens of millions of dollars to foster an opposition in Venezuela loyal to US foreign policy. But to paraphrase the nursery rhyme, “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put the opposition together again.” Neuman laments: “Venezuelans are fed up with opposition parties that often seem more interested in fighting with each other than in improving the country’s fortunes.”
In a tellingly truthful admission, Neuman notes: “Today, Mr. Maduro is stronger than he was three years ago, and the opposition is in disarray.”
Venezuelan government talks with the opposition stalled
At Washington’s urging, the Maduro administration had been negotiating with the opposition. But Caracas withdrew from the talks a year ago to protest the kidnapping of a Venezuelan diplomat by the US. On October 16, 2021, Venezuelan special envoy Alex Saab was abducted from his US-mandated detention in Cabo Verde and imprisoned in Miami.
The US charged Alex Saab with conspiracy to money launder. Venezuela maintains that the diplomat was procuring humanitarian supplies in legal international trade. Further, he is supposed to be protected from arrest and detention under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, to which the US is a party.
The US wants Venezuela back at the negotiating table with the opposition. But Venezuela has made the release of Alex Saab a condition for their return. Both parties agree that Saab was instrumental in helping circumvent the crippling US sanctions against Venezuela.
Possible thawing of US-Venezuela relations
Now that inflation has soared in the US and internationally, due in part to fuel shortages driven by US-led sanctions on oil producers such as Venezuela (and Russia), Washington may be compelled to confront the blowback from its regime-change policy for Venezuela.
Starting in 2017, the US had imposed a series of increasingly draconian measures with the express intent of crashing Venezuela’s oil industry, which was the country’s primary source of income. Both direct and secondary sanctions were imposed in what amounted to an oil embargo.
Venezuelanalysis reported: “The US-led economic blockade has also seen the freezing and seizure of Venezuelan assets abroad, including oil subsidiary CITGO, 31 tons of gold deposited at the Bank of England, and a number of bank accounts.”
Recently, US oil companies such as Chevron, whose profitable concessions in Venezuela were shuttered by the sanctions, have been pressuring the Biden administration to allow them to resume operations.
The need for the US to relax sanctions to again allow Venezuela to export oil to its former largest customer became even more manifest when the OPEC+ cartel (which includes Russia) voted on October 6 to cut oil exports by two million barrels to maintain high prices by limiting supply.
The Wall Street Journal speculated that same day that the “US looks to ease Venezuela sanctions” in hopes of stimulating oil production in Venezuela. The industry publication OilPrice.Com reported, “US considers easing Venezuela sanctions to boost oil supply,” which was echoed by the Business Standard, Politico, and MarketWatch.
Nevertheless, the Biden administration has so far been quick to quash any rumors of détente. A spokesperson for the US National Security Council immediately assuaged any US congressional fears from either side of the aisle that Washington’s illegal and murderous strategy was about to end: “Our sanctions policy on Venezuela remains unchanged.”
That policy paralysis could evolve after the political pressures of mid-term US elections are past. The US may find it has to revisit its sanctions on Venezuela, which in turn could lead to dumping Juan Guaidó as “interim president” and even freeing imprisoned diplomat Alex Saab.
-Roger D. Harris is with the 37-year-old human rights organization Task Force on the Americas and the FreeAlexSaab campaign.