Conversation with Venezuelan National Assembly president & second vice president

Last week, Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro was sworn in for his second term following last year’s fraudulent electoral process. Despite international condemnation and rising domestic pressure, Maduro is unwilling to relegate his hold on the country. On January 9, the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center launched an infographic and hosted a conference call with the new leadership of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, president of the National Assembly and  Stalin González, second vice president, to provide insights on the opposition’s strategy to counter Maduro’s power frenzy.

Guest moderator John Paul Rathbone, the Financial Times Latin America editor, started the conversation with Juan Guaidó  by asking about the upcoming actions the opposition will take to initiate a democratic transition in Venezuela. President Guaidó, stressed the severity of current political conditions and future challenges the National Assembly will face – being this the only recognized democratic institution. Guaidó declared the National Assembly’s mission is to make “this usurpation of power cease.”

He further noted the opposition’s intention to address all actors across the political spectrum in Venezuela to facilitate a process around consensus-building, which will consequently “generate a democratic transition based on [the country’s Constitution]” and enable Venezuela to have free elections.

When Paula Garcia Tufro, deputy director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, asked about the regime’s response to the opposition, Guaidó clarified that the regime employs three main tactics against the opposition: the use of force and persecution, sham negotiations – to win time, – and fraudulent electoral proceedings. He further emphasized the crucial role of the international community to continue pressuring the regime, urging for humanitarian aid to be handled by the National Assembly, and affirmed that “personal sanctions for human rights violations” are truly effective.

Stalin González, second vice president of the National Assembly, emphasized the crucial role of a unified coalition when asked about the major challenges faced by the opposition in the upcoming future. With regard to the need to reach different sectors of society, he stated thta “many have seen the efforts we have undertaken to maintain the unity of the coalition” he stated in. Moreover, González noted that although “80 percent of [Venezuelans] do not agree with Maduro, not all are politicaally active or [identify with] the opposition.” Some groups they will attempt to reach are former government officials who understand the regime as well as military officials that have defected from their ranks.

González finished by reiterating that “what happened on January 5, [the day the new leadership of the National Assembly took office], demonstrates there is unity and an understanding has been reached” by the revamped opposition. This commitment has been evident in the opposition’s effort to persuade all political parties in the National Assembly to sign-on to the same legislative agenda. This strategy seeks to revitalize the responsibility of the institution to respond to the needs of the Venezuelan people.

Regarding the pending draft legislation on the “Creation of a Recovery Fund of the Assets Originated from Corruption and Directed to the Economic Recovery of the Country,” González explained the law intends to accrue the Venezuelan assets frozen as a result of international investigations on the Venezuelan government’s corruption schemes. The draft law proposes that those assets be “returned to Venezuela and be invested in the country to help our people overcome poverty.” González added that the National Assembly views this project as a proactive mechanism to ensure funding for a future political transition. Guaidó reaffirmed that the project is a “wonderful opportunity to help our country recover, to do everything possible to help the reconstruction of Venezuela,” and ease the burden on the Venezuelan people.

On the role of the Venezuelan diaspora in a future democratic transition, President Guaidó underscored  the complexity of the role of the National Assembly. He further described the National Assembly’s role as twofold: to advocate for the rights of  Venezuelans that find themselves in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Chile with precarious migratory status, and to provide “opportunities and incentives so they return.” Guaidó emphasized the country is experiencing “a real brain drain,” evidenced by the shortage of doctors and other technical professionals in Venezuela. González, on the other hand, called for the diaspora to apply more pressure from the countries where they currently reside, praised the work of the Free Venezuela Broad Front (Frente Amplio), a coalition that includes politicians, and representatives from churches, universities, businesses and non-profit organizations,  for their efforts in mobilizing the Venezuelan population in exile, and urged these groups to continue to push against Maduro’s stronghold.

Asked about the degree to which the opposition sees cracks within the Maduro regime, including within the armed forces, Guaidó cited a few specific examples, including 3,000 forced firing of military personnel, the more than 169 members of the armed forces who have been detained in the last year, and important desertions as evidence of the clear divisions within the armed forces. Guaidó further emphasized that these divisions are a critcial element to getting the military to break with Chavismo. The challenge is to build a coalition with these elements of the dissident Chavismo who have broken with the regime, which otherwise continue to serve as part of the military and politcal base of support for Maduro.

Guaidó stressed that pressure alone will not be enough to build a coalition with dissident Chavistas, doing so will also require agreements around what a transition would look like. He noted that the opposition has not yet talked about transitional justice, possible amnesty, or a negotiated transition. Guaidó went on to note that in order to have a successful transition the opposition must be unified, and noted that there was clear evidence of that unity in the swearing in of the new leadership of the National Assembly. He went on to stress the critical importance of the continued support of the interantional community for actions undertaken by the new leadership of the National Assembly in the coming days and weeks.

The event culminated with President Guaidó’s remarks regarding the plan of the National Assembly to nominate “legitimate diplomatic representatives”. In light of the international community’s condemnation of the fraudulent elections on May 20, 2018 and subsequent non-recognition of Maduro’s new government, Guaidó stressed the National Assembly’s commitment to do all they can to move forward with the designation of these new diplomatic representatives and called on the international community to recognize them.