It has now been two years since the start of the new chapter in Venezuela’s ongoing political crisis.
The end of Maduro’s first term and his “re-election” under an illegitimate and marred electoral process were the main factors that led to Juan Guaidó assuming the mantle of interim president on January 23, 2019, as per our constitution.
Now, two years later, we find ourselves not just with two dueling presidents, but with dueling legislative parliaments following the seating of the socialist regime’s new National Assembly. As it stands, we have two executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Two competing factions both claim to be the legitimate officials of each branch of government. With double the government, Venezuela remains totally devoid of any tangible solution to the ongoing collapse of a socialist project that has left us as less than what we were or could’ve been.
The answer to the question of who is the “legitimate” president of Venezuela is one that greatly depends on who you ask and their personal ideology. On one hand, you have the ruling socialist regime in Venezuela, led by Nicolás Maduro, who counts with the support of China, Russia, Cuba, Turkey, and Iran, among others. Maduro controls the nation’s military, which gives him the ability to enforce his claim to power.
Rivaling Maduro is the interim government led by Juan Guaidó, supported by countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and international entities such as the Organization of American States. A limited number of diplomatic representatives spread across the globe are also part of Guaidó’s presidency, but Maduro’s regime still controls the majority of our diplomatic posts.
Guaidó, a relatively unknown figure at the time, was chosen not because of his track record, but because after two decades of mistakes on behalf of the opposition’s leadership, they had to bring in someone new to regain rightfully lost trust.
Guaidó promised us three things when taking power: the end of Maduro’s usurpation of power, a transitional government, and free elections. As of January of 2021, none of this has come to pass, and the effervescent trust once placed upon Juan Guaidó has all but evaporated. I personally approached Guaidó’s presidency with cautious optimism, not because I believed in him, but because it simply was the hand dealt to us at the time.
Following Guaidó’s proclamation as interim president, Venezuela saw yet another brief period of intense protests and brutal repression that escalated into a series of events that took place on April 30, 2019. That day, Guaidó claimed that he had convinced military leaders that he was their true commander-in-chief, meaning Maduro’s term was finally, in practice, over. He was wrong.
Following Guaidó’s failure to remove Maduro and the socialist rule on that day, support to the opposition and Guaidó began to rapidly wane — sending us back to where we started. Protests continued to take place over the remainder of 2019 and in 2020, but none of them had the same intensity as the ones lived during those first four months of 2019.
Guaidó’s presidency, while theoretically legal, does not, in practice, exert any power whatsoever in the country. You may reject both Guaidó and Maduro — but opening defying the rule of the latter can get you thrown in prison, tortured, or worse. Maduro and the socialist party that he presides over have full control over the country and its institutions, having recently seized control of Venezuela’s National Assembly through another skewed election process after they had lost it in the elections that took place in December 2015.
This new parliament counts on a small fraction of collaborationists that masquerade as “opposition” legislators, including figures such as Luis Parra, who was part of a ploy to block and strip Juan Guaidó of the presidency of the National Assembly in early 2020, an action that got him sanctioned by the U.S. government. Diosdado Cabello, socialist party strongman and suspected drug lord, and Maduro’s own son, “Nicolasito” Maduro Guerra, are also among the rogues’ gallery presided by Jorge Rodríguez, a man who has occupied a multitude of positions on the Bolivarian government and is the brother to current Vice President Delcy Rodríguez.
For all intents and purposes, the opposition-led National Assembly’s 2016-2020 term ended on January 5, 2021. However, before its term came to an end, a reform to the transitional laws that it approved was passed to extend its term through the year 2021, which has now resulted in two completely different National Assemblies existing and legislating at the same time while competing for international recognition — again, with the Socialist Party’s parliament the one truly wielding legislative power within Venezuela’s borders.
Even before fighting off an evil twin, the opposition-led National Assembly had for years not been able to use any of its legislative faculties, nor was it able to pass a single new law – as the Venezuelan Supreme Court, stacked with Maduro cronies, declared the parliament in contempt mere days after the start of its term, rendering all its acts null and void. To counter the pro-Maduro Supreme Court, the National Assembly designated its own Supreme Court in 2017. All of its members were rapidly forced to go into exile, making their actions symbolic at best.
Venezuela has been fractured and extremely polarized after more than two decades of skirmishes between the chavistas and the opposition (or escuálidos, as they’ve been respectively become to be known), with these two dual governments simply being the latest manifestation of that schism. This divide is all my generation has come to know and it does mold you, in a way, whether you like it or not. Thankfully, I still retain some faint memories of how things used to be before the rise of Hugo Chávez to power. While those weren’t perfect days, it was far better than what we’ve gone through since 1999.
Life blessed Venezuela with an abundance of natural resources and beautiful landscapes but, unfortunately, we seem to have been cursed with our politicians — and with our lack of hindsight when it comes to choosing them. Case in point, Hugo Chávez’s 1998 presidential victory, which followed an attempt at a violent military coup in 1992.
With a lack of alternatives and zero hope left in the Venezuelan politicians, regular citizens have simply resigned once more to playing the role that the collapse of the socialist regime and its “Fatherland Plan” has turned them into: survivors.
While Maduro and Guaidó decide what to do with each other’s respective governments, people still have to wrestle with nonstop inflation while attempting to procure some of those U.S. greenbacks that are ever-so-life-saving in these times, as well as dealing with the large repertoire of problems that range from gasoline to water and power shortages — all made worse by ten months of ongoing Chinese Coronavirus lockdowns and quarantine measures of intermittent intensity that have severely limited the livelihood of many.
As a famous Venezuelan comedian from before Chávez’s time used to say, “governments come and go, but the hunger remains.” In these trying days, Venezuelans are more afraid of hunger than they are of the coronavirus. Hope and optimism are hard to come by. While we may have two presidents, two parliaments, and two supreme courts, nothing has improved, and there’s hardly any reason to think that it will in the near future.
Christian K. Caruzo is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter here.