Opposition leader and reelected president of the National Assembly Juan Guaido speaks to the press before attempting the entrance to the first session of the National Assembly after the controversial incidents during vote for new authorities of January 5th at the on January 7, 2020 in Caracas, Venezuela.
Carolina Cabral | Getty Images
Venezuela’s internationally-recognized government concedes the last 12 months have been “very tough.”
One year ago, Juan Guaido took to the streets of Caracas to declare himself as the crisis-stricken country’s rightful commander-in-chief. The historic move marked the boldest challenge to Maduro‘s leadership in years.
Cheered on by hundreds of thousands of supporters on Jan 23., 2019, Guaido said he would bring an end to the socialist administration’s “dictatorship” and vowed to hold “free and fair” elections.
The leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly was swiftly recognized as Venezuela’s legitimate interim leader by more than 50 countries.
Maduro’s government — with the broad support of the military — has refused to cede power.
That’s despite an economic meltdown, an intensifying humanitarian crisis, the near-collapse of the country’s oil sector, targeted economic sanctions, mass civilian protests and an attempted military uprising.
Even peace talks have ended in failure.
It means the country remains locked in a political stalemate, whereby it has an internationally-recognized government, with no control over state functions, running parallel to Maduro’s regime.
“Guaido has had a very tough year of it and taken a lot of hits,” Vanessa Neumann, the chief diplomat in London for Venezuela’s opposition leader, told CNBC in an exclusive interview.
“I think there was a lot of naivety on a lot of sides. Mistakes were made in terms of underestimating the tenacity of the regime.”
One of those mistakes, Neumann said, was to assume that Maduro’s allies would be moved by the flurry of mass civilian rallies shortly after Guaido declared himself as interim leader.
“That’s not how a criminal gang thinks. That’s how a political movement thinks and so I think that that was a fundamental miscalculation.”
Rocio Maneiro, the ambassador to Venezuela’s Maduro in Britain, did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
‘Slow process of takeover’
Maduro has accused the opposition of seeking to stage a coup with the support of the U.S. He has frequently claimed President Donald Trump’s administration is trying to govern Venezuela from Washington.
The U.S., which is one of dozens of countries to recognize Guaido as the acting president of Venezuela, has recently suggested it could impose additional economic sanctions on the Venezuelan government.
“We are not stalled. What we are is in a very slow transition… It is turning, the issue is the speed of the turning. It is a slow process of takeover,” Neumann continued.
“I think for 2020 … Two things need to happen: Domestically, in Venezuela, we need a stronger government — something that punches back, to be more proactive.”
“On the international community side … There needs to be a deeper understanding of the criminality and the proxy support. Treat them like the criminals they are,” she added.
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro delivers a speech during a pro-government rally against US sanctions in Caracas on August 10, 2019.
FEDERICO PARRA | AFP | Getty Images
Earlier this month, Guaido was re-elected to a second one-year term as head of the opposition-controlled congress.
However, the event was marred by chaotic and at times violent scenes, as Guaido was prevented from entering parliament by Maduro’s Bolivarian National Guards.
The blockade, which was condemned by the U.S., European Union and a dozen Latin American countries as an assault on democracy, allowed Maduro’s regime to hand the post to Luis Parra — a former ally to the opposition before he was recently expelled from the party over corruption allegations.
Opposition lawmakers quickly held an impromptu session to re-elect Guaido at the headquarters of El Nacional, a pro-opposition newspaper.
It means that, in addition to two rival presidents, the oil-rich, but cash-poor, country now has two men claiming to be Speaker of the National Assembly.
‘Law enforcement solution’
“We are following a path where sanctions are not enough to force Maduro out of power,” Diego Moya-Ocampos, lead Venezuela analyst at London-based consulting firm IHS Markit, told CNBC.
Moya-Ocampos argued that those supportive of Guaido had become “exhausted” in recent months, with many citizens “losing faith” in his ability to deliver regime change.
A key challenge for the re-elected opposition leader, he continued, was that Guaido was having to try to oust Maduro “in the absence of a credible threat of the use of force from the international community.”
A Venezuelan transports in a pushcart the goods bought by a Venezuelan in Colombia to Venezuela in the border between Colombia and Venezuela on June 09, 2019 in Paraguachon, Colombia. UN and International Organization for Migration (IOM) announced that 4 million of Venezuelans have left their country since 2015 due to the social, political and economic crisis, which means they are the single largest population groups displaced from their country globally.
Guillermo Legaria | Getty Images News | Getty Images
The South American country is in the midst of one of the Western Hemisphere’s worst humanitarian crises in recent memory, with approximately 4.5 million people having fled the country since 2015 amid an economic meltdown.
World leaders need to “properly understand the Venezuela situation. It is unprecedented,” Moya-Ocampos said, before adding: “We have never seen a criminal group directly taking over the reins of a state and all its dynamics —this is what has happened in Venezuela.”
“I think the first step toward change is properly understanding the criminal nature of the regime and dealing with it through a law enforcement solution,” he concluded.