In February 2019, the election in Venezuela did not go the way the U.S. had scripted it. So, the U.S. stuck with the script and ignored the election.
Though Hugo Chávez’ successor, Nicolás Maduro, easily won re-election to a second term, the U.S. ignored the result and recognized their choice as the legitimate leader of Venezuela. The script had been long in the works, and the performance of it was closely coordinated with Washington: Juan Guaidó was the legitimate leader of Venezuela.
Though, while campaigning, Biden called the Trump administration’s policy on Venezuela "an abject failure,” his administration has continued to recognize and support Guaidó as “the Interim President of Venezuela.”
U.S. attempts to isolate and sanction Venezuela since Maduro first won election have resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Venezuelans.
It is now becoming clear that the recognition of Guaidó and the isolation of Venezuela have been a failure and that both are coming to an end. Recognition of Guaidó is disintegrating and Venezuela is being reintegrated into the international community. There are even signs that the U.S. may be preparing to abandon Guaidó and the interim government.
The change in script is coming from many directions. An important contributor is the recent re-emergence of Latin America asserting itself against U.S. hegemony in the region.
The revival of the movement against U.S. hegemony began with the election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico. The Mexican President began the reintegration of Venezuela by inviting Maduro to the recent meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States hosted by Mexico. López Obrador boycotted the recent Summit of the Americas in protest of Washington’s exclusion of Venezuela.
Perhaps even more important is the election of Gustavo Petro as president of Colombia. Colombia has long been the key to US projection into Latin America and a base of operations against Venezuela. Biden has "said many times that Colombia is the keystone of U.S. policy in Latin America and the Caribbean." He has called the relationship between the two nations "the essential partnership we need in this hemisphere," and Colombia "the linchpin . . . to the whole hemisphere."
On August 29, Colombia returned its ambassador to Venezuela as Petro fulfilled his election promise to fully restore diplomatic relations with Venezuela. On November 1, Petro and Maduro reversed the relationship between their countries and signed a joint declaration in Caracas to consolidate bilateral relations and deepen integration. Petro declared that "It is unnatural, anti-historical, for Colombia and Venezuela to separate. It happened once, and it should not happen again because we are the same people.” He said that he committed to "a real integration in projects, not only in speeches” and called on Chile, Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru to "accept the reintegration of Venezuela to the Andean Community." The two presidents discussed enhanced cooperation on economy, trade, migration, the environment and security. In September, Venezuela and Colombia reopened their border, which has improved trade, migration and security.
The push from Latin America to reintegrate Venezuela will be critically strengthened by the recent election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil. In an interview before the election, Lula told Time that he was “very concerned when the U.S. and the E.U. adopted Guaidó as President of the country. You don’t play with democracy.” Lula’s former foreign minister promised that a Lula election "would open the door for Brazil to re-engage diplomatically with neighboring Venezuela."
In addition to Mexico, Colombia and Brazil, several other Latin American countries have reopened communications with Venezuela, including Mexico, Peru, Honduras, and Chile. Ecuador is also considering re-establishing diplomatic relations with Venezuela, and Argentina has announced that they will re-establish ties.
On October 6, nineteen members of the Organization of American States voted in favour of a proposal to strip Guaidó’s permanent representative to the OAS of recognition on the grounds that Guaidó is not the head of state. The proposal failed only because the 35 nation organization requires a two-thirds majority. More than half voted for the resolution and many other countries abstained, with only the U.S, Canada, Guatemala and Paraguay supporting Guaidó.
The change in script is also being written in Europe. In 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron recognized Guaidó as acting president and called Maduro “illegitimate.” But, on November 8, at the COP27 climate summit, Macron addressed Maduro as “President” as he shook Maduro’s hand for one-and-a-half minutes while telling him that he “would be happy if we could talk to each other for longer to engage in useful bilateral work for the region.”
Macron’s shift in foreign policy is a further development of the European Union’s 2021 decision to continue to recognize Guaidó a “privileged interlocutor” but, in a break from the U.S., no longer to recognize him as the interim president.
But the change in script is coming not just from abroad: it is coming from within Venezuela too. At the end of October, the alliance of parties that oppose Maduro began discussion to cease the claim that Guaidó is Venezuela’s legitimate leader and end the interim government. A senior opposition figure told the Financial Times that “It has been decided to redesign everything without Guaidó as interim president. There is an overwhelming conviction among the majority [of the opposition] that the figure of Guaidó and the interim government is at odds with reality.”
The rebellion is occurring even within Guaidó’s own shadow government. In December, Julio Borges, Guaidó’s foreign minister, resigned because he had come to believe that the interim government should be terminated.
But, most importantly, there are signs that the U.S. is preparing to abandon the nearly four year plan to remove Maduro by recognizing the shadow interim government. On October 21, CNN Spanish reported that two sources “close to the opposition leadership” said that the interim government led by Guaidó will end in January 2023. A “diplomatic source close to the Venezuelan opposition” told CNN that “the United States plans to strip him of recognition as interim president in January, when a new legislative session begins.”
Though seemingly not reported elsewhere, the CNN story is lent support by reporting in the Miami Herald that a White House official says “The Biden administration will not get involved in a leadership fight within Venezuela’s struggling opposition movement as a revolt brews against its interim president, Juan Guaidó.” The Herald reports that the White House official says that “The White House will not oppose this effort” to “do away with the so-called interim government.”
A Venezuelan opposition leader echoed the statement made to the Financial Times that “a consensus is forming that the concept of an interim government no longer makes sense, and specifically the role of Guaidó as interim president.”
Though the U.S. continues to recognize Guaidó, “when pressed,” U.S. officials “would not rule out revoking U.S. recognition of the interim government.”
Miguel Tinker Salas, Professor of Latin American History at Pomona College, and one of the world’s leading experts on Venezuelan history and politics, told me that “Guaidó’s term expires in January, and there is wide spread speculation that the U.S. could use that fact to end its recognition.” He added that “For all intents and purposes he has been sidelined by developments in the country and even for those in the opposition he is a non-entity.”
In the first signs of the U.S. granting a measure of legitimacy and support to Maduro, Washington has offered the first crack in the sanctions against Venezuela. In negotiations in Mexico City, representatives of the Maduro government and the Guaidó led opposition agreed to create a United Nations managed humanitarian fund that will use $3 billion from funds that will be unfrozen by the U.S. or Europe to finance health, food and education programs for the poor. In return, Washington agreed to allow Chevron to resume limited pumping of oil in Venezuela after years of being prohibited to do so by U.S. sanctions. The Chevron opening would not only bring relief and recognition to Maduro and Venezuela, it ”could represent an important step toward allowing Venezuela to re-enter the international oil market,” according to The New York Times.
Though the U.S. motivation may have more to do with global oil supplies being severely impacted by sanctions on Russia, the opening coincides with other signs that Venezuela is being reintegrated into the global community and that the nearly four year attempt to sideline Maduro with a parallel government may be coming to an end.