Venezuela’s Fictional President May Still Offer Hope

Juan Guaidó, recognized as Venezuela’s legitimate president by more than 50 countries, was brutally returned to reality after a fairy-tale tour of Latin America, Europe and the United States, when hundreds of thugs in the service of his country’s dictatorship welcomed him back at the airport in Caracas by kicking him, punching him and tearing into his clothes. And that is, in a nutshell, his own and Venezuela’s truth.

The government, despised by much of the international community and deeply unpopular at home, has the total control of the country. Every effort to unseat ruling tyrant Nicolás Maduro and his Cuban allies, who are behind the brutal counter-intelligence operation that has so far prevented any serious cracks in the military apparatus, has been a miserable failure.

No amount of suffering—under an economy with a 30 percent negative rate of growth, a murder rate that has turned Caracas into the most violent city in the world, and social conditions that have expelled nearly 5 million people from the country—has weakened the dictatorship’s grip on power. No amount of pressure—including international sanctions and huge internal protests—has given rise to a powerful movement of dissent within the regime.

The opposition, though massive and courageous, has proven erratic, falling into the trap of entering into sham negotiations with the duplicitous regime, and is as riddled with the division as one would expect under such frustrating conditions. The one thing the opposition has managed to achieve is to get the National Assembly to turn the Chavista constitution against Maduro by deposing him and electing Guaidó, in a parliamentary procedure, as “president in charge” with the aim of triggering a process that will lead to free elections.

But, even though Guaidó has obtained some help in the lower echelons of the regime’s security forces (without this he could not have smuggled himself out of Venezuela to embark on his recent world tour), his ability to lead a political transition has run up against an impossible barrier. Tragically, he is president in name only.

This grim reality has led many critics to pin their hopes on a U.S.-led intervention—one that Washington is extremely unlikely to pursue under President Trump. It would have to be conducted against considerable political and institutional opposition at home and in most of Latin America. But just in case, Maduro has managed to get Russia preemptively to come to his aid. The presence of Russian military advisors is routinely publicized, and Vladimir Putin’s minister of foreign affairs, Sergei Lavrov, visited Maduro in Caracas immediately after Guaidó met Trump at the White House last week.

Some in the opposition are also hopeful that Putin will trade Venezuela for Ukraine, eventually giving Trump a free hand. But Putin would have to be stupid to do so now that Moscow has set foot in the U.S. backyard again and is thoroughly enjoying it.

That said, Guaidó has guaranteed his own freedom, limited though it is, within Venezuela. The international support he enjoys as a fictional president makes it unlikely that Maduro will throw him in jail or kill him, as he has done with others. The regime will rough him up from time to time in the streets, as they did upon his return to Caracas, and make it difficult for him to access the National Assembly, but it will not go beyond that. This gives Guaidó at least the possibility of keeping alive the fairy tale that he is president.

This sounds dismissive, but history may render a different verdict. It was thanks to fairy tales keeping hope alive for decades in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe that walls and empires eventually came tumbling down. So, let’s keep the fairy tale going until such time—and it will not be soon—as the impossible becomes probable in Venezuela.

Alvaro Vargas Llosa is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute. His Independent books include Global Crossings, Liberty for Latin America, and The Che Guevara Myth.
Posts by Alvaro Vargas Llosa | Full Biography and Publications
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