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

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.

3 ministers may break with British PM over Brexit

Updated 9 min 49 sec ago

3 ministers may break with British PM over Brexit

  • The ministers have said they will side with opposition parties to stop Britain leaving without a divorce deal
  • Comments seen as a warning to hard-line Brexit faction in Conservative Party

LONDON: Three senior British Cabinet ministers suggested on Saturday they may break with Prime Minister Theresa May and back amendments to delay Brexit unless a deal is agreed to in the next week.

Their comments represent a serious Cabinet split ahead of a key week in Parliament and are seen as a warning to the hard-line Brexit faction in the Conservative Party.

The ministers indicated in a Daily Mail article published on Saturday that they will back plans to delay Brexit if lawmakers vote down May’s plan for a new deal with the EU.

Business Minister Greg Clark, Work and Pensions Minister Amber Rudd, and Justice Minister David Gauke signalled in the newspaper column that they will side with rebels and opposition parties next week to stop Britain leaving without a divorce deal on March 29 if necessary, adding their weight to calls for May to rule out a no-deal departure.

May is struggling against the clock to get a deal with Brussels on Britain’s exit from the world’s largest trading bloc that will pass parliamentary muster. 

She planned to meet Donald Tusk on the sidelines of an EU-League of Arab States summit on Sunday, but EU diplomats are not expecting any imminent breakthrough.

In the column headlined “If we don’t get a deal next week we must delay Brexit,” Clark, Rudd and Gauke wrote that a no-deal exit was a risk to business, security and British territorial unity, and accused some Parliament colleagues of complacency.

“Far from Brexit resulting in a newly independent United Kingdom stepping boldly into the wider world, crashing out on March 29 would see us poorer, less secure and potentially splitting up,” they said, referring to the threat of a new bid for Scottish independence.

“Our economy will be damaged severely both in the short and the long term. Costs will increase, businesses that rely on just-in-time supply chains will be severely disrupted and investment will be discouraged,” they wrote.

The ministers called on members of the European Research Group, formed by Conservative pro-Brexit lawmakers, to back the government’s deal in Parliament or risk seeing Brexit delayed.

Both May’s Conservatives and the main opposition Labour Party are formally committed to delivering Brexit. In recent days Labour has appeared to soften its stance on a second referendum, although May has ruled such an option out.

Lawmakers from both parties, however, are deeply split over how or even whether Britain will leave, and no majority has so far emerged in Parliament for any comprehensive Brexit strategy.

May has promised that if she does not bring a revised deal back by Feb. 27, Parliament will have an opportunity to vote on the next steps. Some lawmakers are expected to use that to try to wrest control of the process from the government.