World

Guaidó, the Face of Opposition in Venezuela, May Be on His Way Out

CARACAS, Venezuela — Juan Guaidó swept to international renown in 2019 during a euphoric anti-government protest when he declared Venezuela’s authoritarian president an illegitimate leader and himself the interim leader.

It was a major and bold move backed by the United States and dozens of other nations and the most serious threat to President Nicolás Maduro’s authoritarian government.

But on Thursday, with Mr. Maduro still firmly in place, it seemed Mr. Guaidó’s mandate might be nearing its end.

In a vote held by the opposition legislature that exists parallel to Mr. Maduro’s government, Mr. Guaidó’s own colleagues voted overwhelmingly to end his interim government.

The decision is not final: A second session scheduled for Dec. 29 will have to confirm it, though analysts believe the initial vote will likely stand. But it was the clearest sign yet that most of the Venezuelan opposition believes that Mr. Guaidó cannot achieve their stated goal — Mr. Maduro’s ouster and the restoration of democracy — and that they must pursue a different strategy.

It was also a blow to the United States, which threw its support steadfastly behind Mr. Guaidó and continues to call him the country’s interim president, even as other nations have backed away from that recognition.

Mr. Guaidó at the White House in 2020. Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

A representative of the U.S. Embassy to Venezuela did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A total of 72 representatives voted Thursday to eliminate the interim government, while 24 voted to keep it and nine voted to abstain.

In a message to the public, the three opposition political parties supporting the end of the interim government said that the “political process” that began four years ago with the recognition of Mr. Guaidó as president “is not perceived as an option for real political change.”

The strategy in place under Mr. Guaidó “has not reached the expected liberation objectives and the country demands new paths that lead us toward democracy,” the message continued.

Venezuela has been in the grips of an economic, political and humanitarian crisis since 2014, led by a government claiming socialist ideals that has gutted the country’s democratic institutions and left much of the country impoverished. Seven million people, a quarter of the population, have fled in recent years, with a growing number of them headed toward the United States.

In 2019, Mr. Guaidó, a student activist turned legislator, took the helm of the country’s legislature, then the last major institution in the country controlled by the opposition.

Amid large-scale protests against the Maduro government, he invoked an article of the Constitution that transfers power to the head of the National Assembly if the presidency becomes vacant.

A 2018 election won by Mr. Maduro had already been declared a sham by the United States, the European Union, the Organization of American States and others, and Mr. Guaidó used that to claim that the president’s mandate was illegitimate.

President Nicolás Maduro, speaking in Caracas last month, remains in power.Credit…Federico Rios for The New York Times

Mr. Guaidó soon had an outpouring of support from Venezuelans, the diplomatic recognition of around 60 countries and staunch American backing — and was able to temporarily unite the country’s fractured opposition. For a moment, a nation crushed by repression and economic collapse saw hope.

Since then, the opposition has succeeded in getting Mr. Maduro to agree to a political dialogue in Mexico, which is set to continue next month after being stalled for more than a year.

As a part of those talks, Mr. Maduro has agreed to allow some Venezuelan funds frozen abroad to be used as humanitarian aid to help alleviate hunger and other travails faced by the country.

While this is regarded as a concession, the opposition is still far from its ultimate goal: Mr. Maduro’s removal. Opposition leaders are pushing him toward allowing free and fair conditions for a presidential election that is already scheduled in 2024.

In an interview with The New York Times at his home in Caracas, the capital, last year, Mr. Guaidó said that unrelenting government persecution had dismantled his entourage and targeted his family. His chief of staff and his uncle had both spent months in detention. Most of his advisers and close relatives had fled the country.

“The worst thing,” he added, thinking of his toddler daughter, “is having to explain to a child why the police follow her.”

He continued: “This has been a great sacrifice, but I’d repeat it a thousand times.”

Isayen Herrera reported from Caracas, Venezuela, and Julie Turkewitz from Bogotá, Colombia.

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