February 2, 2023

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Juan Guaidó is voted out as Venezuela’s opposition leader

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s legislative opposition on Friday voted to end its interim government, ending the leadership of Juan Guaidó, who for years had served as the face of resistance to the country’s authoritarian government.

The vote was a blow to the United States, which had been staunchly supporting Mr Guaidó. It was the second and final vote this month to decide the fate of the interim government, whose influence has waned in recent years as President Nicolás Maduro has remained in power, Mr Guaidó has failed to cement popular support and the opposition collapsed.

The decision made it clear that members of the opposition had lost faith in Mr Guaidó’s ability to achieve their goals – toppling Mr Maduro’s authoritarian government and restoring democracy – and that they wanted to pursue a different strategy.

By a vote of 72 in favor, 29 against and eight abstentions, lawmakers moved to end Mr. Guaidó’s interim presidency effective Jan. 4.

“Everything we do has to do with laying the foundations for a new phase of a more effective democratic struggle,” said Juan Miguel Matheus, a representative of the Primero Justicia party. He said the decision had “the ultimate goal of defeating Maduro as soon as possible”.

Venezuela has been in the grips of an economic, political and humanitarian crisis since 2014, as a government that invokes socialist ideals has eroded the country’s democratic institutions and left much of the population impoverished. Seven million people, a quarter of the population, have fled abroad in recent years, and a growing number are moving to the United States.

Mr Guaidó, 39, a student activist-turned-legislator, took the helm of the country’s legislature in 2019 when it was the country’s last major institution to be controlled by the opposition. Amid widespread protests against the Maduro government, he invoked an article in the constitution that delegates power to the Speaker of the National Assembly if the presidency becomes vacant. He declared Mr Maduro the illegitimate ruler and proclaimed himself the country’s interim leader.

The bold move was backed by the United States and dozens of other nations, and it soon garnered a flood of support from Venezuelans, bringing a glimmer of hope to a nation crushed by oppression and economic collapse.

On Thursday, in a final call for reconciliation, Mr Guaidó proposed that the National Assembly, rather than dissolving the body entirely, should appoint a new president to head the interim government.

“Let’s defend the institution, the constitution and the country by name or personal interest,” Mr Guaidó said on Twitter.

But the other three political parties achieved the necessary majority to ratify their decision to abolish the parallel government.

During Friday’s vote, some lawmakers spoke out against the decision, claiming it could put the country’s economic assets at risk of falling into the hands of Mr Maduro’s government.

“It’s shameful,” said Freddy Guevara, a representative of the Voluntad Popular party, who argued the measure would empower Mr Maduro. “I can’t understand how we commit this suicide.”

Mr Guaidó called it “a leap into the void”.

“Who will take over the power vacuum?” he asked. “Who takes responsibility?”

Mr Guaidó’s strength was tied to his international diplomatic recognition, but American sanctions designed to help him drained state revenues and forced Venezuelans to focus on day-to-day survival rather than political mobilization. And his attempts to incite a military insurgency eventually consolidated Mr Maduro’s, 60’s, control of the armed forces.

The United States continues to refer to Mr. Guaidó as the country’s interim president, even as other nations have backed away from that recognition, ties with the Maduro government have begun to thaw, and the governments of several new left-wing governments in South America have begun to narrow their rapprochement with Mr .Toning down Maduro.

In recent years, the Venezuelan opposition has managed to get Mr Maduro to agree to a political dialogue to continue next month in Mexico after stalling for more than a year. As part of those talks, Mr Maduro has agreed to use some Venezuelan funds frozen abroad as humanitarian aid to help alleviate hunger and other problems in the country.

Opposition leaders are also urging him to allow free and fair terms for a presidential election scheduled for 2024.

Isayen Herrera reported from Caracas, Venezuela and Genevieve Glatsky from Philadelphia.