Democratic transition in Venezuela seems possible, analysts say

Juan Guaido, president of Venezuela's National Assembly, greets supporters during a gathering in Caracas on January 19, 2019. (REUTERS/Manaure Quintero)
Updated 20 January 2019
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Democratic transition in Venezuela seems possible, analysts say

  • Venezuela's opposition politicians are getting united behind 35-year-old industrial engineer Juan Guaido
  • International pressure on Caracas has been growing since Maduro’s reelection last May
WASHINGTON: After an election victory slammed as fraudulent by the opposition and international community, Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro has begun a new term that will see him in office until 2025, his grip on power seemingly firmer than ever.
So why are analysts talking up a hope for political change?
Step in Juan Guaido, a 35-year-old industrial engineer who took charge of the opposition-dominated National Assembly on January 5, breathing new life into the body that had been rendered virtually impotent by Maduro’s constitutional maneuvers.
“It’s almost like a rebirth. The opposition has emerged more unified than ever before,” says Geoff Ramsey, vice president for Venezuela at WOLA, a research center on Latin America based in Washington.
“For the first time in many months... Maduro is on the defensive,” wrote Andres Oppenheimer, a noted journalist on Latin American affairs.
Weeks into his new job, Guaido has managed to get the assembly’s opposition majority to officially declare Maduro a usurper and denounce his re-election as a fraud, while promising an “amnesty” for all military and government officials that disavow the president.
That achievement eluded his predecessors, who have been exiled, imprisoned or disqualified.
Guaido upped the ante in a Washington Post column Tuesday, invoking articles of Venezuela’s constitution that call on its people to reject regimes that violate democratic values, adding: “I am fully able and willing to assume the office of the presidency on an interim basis to call for free and fair elections.”
Michael Shifter, director of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank, agreed Guaido wresting power from Maduro would be in accordance with the law.
“What is happening in Venezuela is not a coup d’etat,” he said. “The National Assembly and its current leader Guaido are totally legitimate, and have the law and Constitution on their side.”
But, he added, the limits of the opposition’s new-found strength are soon to be tested.
Facing a regime-loyalist-dominated Supreme Court that annuls all its decisions, the opposition has three main pathways, argues veteran diplomat Michael Matera, director of the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“The support of the military, the Venezuelan people and the international community will be essential to allow Guaido to assume (office) officially as president and to step into a role that now Maduro is trying illegitimately to hold to,” he said.
To that end, the National Assembly this week boldly extended a hand to the military: it promised to grant amnesty to all those who support a return to constitutional order.
Guaido will also require the support of moderate followers of Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez to break for him, added Ramsey.
International pressure on Caracas has been growing since Maduro’s reelection last May, but it surged with the arrival in power of the far right in Brazil: new President Jair Bolsonaro agrees with his US counterpart Donald Trump that Maduro is a “dictator.”
Bolsonaro, whom Maduro called a modern-day Hitler, Thursday met at Planalto Palace with Miguel Angel Martin, president of the Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela in exile, appointed by the opposition majority Assembly. A top adviser of Organization of American States chief Luis Almagro also was present.
Meanwhile, Brazilian Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo met with Venezuelan opposition members and representatives of the United States and the Lima Group, a bloc of countries critical of Maduro. After the meeting, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Brazil’s willingness to support a Guaido “interim presidency.”
Though Maduro has a few allies in Latin America and around the world, most of the international community would welcome a democratic transition in Venezuela, according to Shifter.
“This process needs to be managed skillfully and be very clear-eyed about the obstacles that stand in the way,” he said.


Scotland will prepare for a second independence vote regardless of UK: FM Nicola Sturgeon

Updated 5 min 27 sec ago
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Scotland will prepare for a second independence vote regardless of UK: FM Nicola Sturgeon

  • Scotland will start preparing for independence referendum before May 2021 without permission from Westminster
  • London's approval, however, would eventually be necessary

EDINBURGH: Scotland will start preparing for an independence referendum before May 2021 without permission from London, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Wednesday.
Scotland, part of the United Kingdom for more than 300 years, rejected independence by 10 percentage points in a 2014 referendum. But differences over Brexit have strained relations with England and the British government in London.
"A choice between Brexit and a future for Scotland as an independent European nation should be offered in the lifetime of this parliament," Sturgeon told Scotland's devolved parliament.
She said a devolved parliament bill would be drawn up before the end of 2019, and that Scotland did not need permission at this stage from London.
London's approval, however, would eventually be necessary "to put beyond doubt or challenge our ability to apply the bill to an independence referendum," she said.
The United Kingdom voted 52-48 to leave the EU in a 2016 referendum, but while Wales and England vote to leave, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay.
In the campaign for the 2014 independence referendum, unionists said that the only way for Scotland to stay in the EU was to remain within the United Kingdom. The Scottish National Party (SNP), which controls the devolved parliament in Edinburgh, says that a second referendum is justified as Scotland is now being dragged out of the bloc against its will.
With most Scots unhappy at Brexit, Sturgeon is under pressure from independence supporters to offer a clear way forward in the quest to break from the United Kingdom.
Britain is mired in political chaos and it is still unclear whether, when or even if it will leave the European Union.
John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University and Britain's leading polling expert, said Sturgeon was keeping her own troops happy while leaving her options open.
She probably has until October or November of 2020 to hold a new vote once Brexit happens, he said.
Since Scots rejected independence 55-45 percent in 2014, polls show that support has changed little. Grassroots supporters will launch a new campaign this week before the SNP spring conference this weekend.
"I think she was implicitly acknowledging that while it might be impossible (to get permission) out of the current (UK) parliament, it might be a lot easier if we get a general election between now and the end of the year, and the SNP may well find itself in the kingmaker role," Curtice told Reuters.
Her address took a noticeably conciliatory tone.
"The question that confronts us now is this: if the status quo is not fit for purpose - and I know even some of the most committed believers in the union find it hard to argue that it is - how do we fix it?" she said.
Those who want to maintain the United Kingdom argue that Brexit has made no difference to how Scots feel, and the secession vote should not be repeated.
"Nicola Sturgeon continues to press for divisive constitutional change when it is clear that most people in Scotland do not want another independence referendum," said David Mundell, Britain's Scotland minister.
Sturgeon argued that leaving the world's largest trading bloc endangers Britain and Scotland's economic well-being.
"We face being forced to the margins, sidelined within a UK that is itself increasingly sidelined on the international stage. Independence by contrast would allow us to protect our place in Europe."