Venezuelan opposition leaders and the governments that back them just saw their strategy for dislodging the increasingly tyrannical regime of President Nicolas Maduro culminate in failure. Last Sunday, in farcical elections for a new legislature, Maduro’s supporters took control of the last remaining bastion of the opposition, the National Assembly. The legislature had served as the tip of the spear for a coordinated international campaign to remove Maduro, which was promoted by the Trump administration and supported by European and Latin American democracies.
That plan, which launched two years ago, had tried to capitalize on the opposition’s control of the National Assembly. Opposition politicians had won an overwhelming majority during the last legislative elections, in 2015, which turned out to be Venezuela’s last credible polls. Although the regime later stripped the National Assembly of all its powers, the opposition still enjoyed the legitimacy of a duly elected government institution, even one with seemingly no practical authority, and found a way to leverage it.
After Maduro proclaimed himself the winner of a fraudulent presidential election in 2018, the National Assembly declared the presidency vacant and, following constitutional guidelines, named the head of the legislature, Juan Guaido, as the country’s rightful interim president until fair elections could be held. Guaido was soon recognized by some 50 countries as Venezuela’s legitimate head of state. The United States led a new “maximum pressure” campaign against the regime, including tightening sanctions, but an expected military uprising to oust Maduro failed to materialize.