From Power Struggles to Unity: The Opposition’s Plan to Challenge Maduro in 2024

Does the Venezuelan opposition have a chance?

Venezuela’s opposition has been seriously weakened in the last few months. Part of the reason is that Nicolás Maduro’s brutal dictatorship has survived every attempt to topple it with support from Cuba, Russia, Iran, and to some extent China. But some responsibility lies with the leaders of the opposition themselves, who have devoted an inordinate amount of time to internecine power struggles and, in some cases, engaged in acts of corruption that have tarnished its image.

As the head of a National Assembly in which the opposition held the majority after the parliamentary elections of 2015, Juan Guaidó was recognized in January 2019 by his peers and much of the international community as the acting president. Maduro had just re-elected himself in a farcical presidential election. Under the constitution, the head of the Assembly was entitled to assume the presidency. But after the effectiveness and prestige of the interim government waned, the opposition itself disbanded it at the end of 2022. Its leaders are now busy trying to bring back to life the resistance movement through primary elections that will be held in October and are intended to produce a unity candidate that will challenge Maduro in 2024.

The process is being organized by a committee of jurists and academics led by Jesús María Casal under the umbrella of the Unity Platform, which includes a broad spectrum of organizations. But several critical decisions still to be made that could undermine the effort, mainly whether collaboration is to be sought from the official electoral body, which is dominated by “Chavistas” and has been instrumental in rigging elections in the past. Some opposition members think that using official polling stations and getting help from the National Electoral Council to register new voters is the best way to ensure broad participation and a credible process. In contrast, others reject this as political suicide. 

Another point of contention is whether the Venezuelan diaspora will be allowed to partake in the vote. Some seven million Venezuelans have fled the country in recent years. One would think that all opposition leaders would accept the principle that these Venezuelans, whose lives have been upended by their nation’s political tragedy, should be allowed to participate, but this is not the case. Leaders who have lost credibility and been part of various failed attempts at negotiating political deals with the dictatorship fear that Venezuelans abroad will opt for candidates who refused to participate. Talks held in Mexico have been suspended since November.

María Corina Machado, who has been consistently critical of how the opposition has conducted itself, including those negotiations, seems to be leading the polls. This brings some hope to those who feared the primaries would become another brick in the wall of the failure of Venezuelan democrats to mount a real challenge to the regime. She is charismatic, principled, and has good ethical credentials. Her defense of individual liberty, free trade, and property rights puts her at odds with the vision of most other opposition leaders, who embody various forms of socialist populism, believing that Venezuelans are not ready for a radical ideological change after years of socialist propaganda. 

Other potential candidates include Manuel Rosales, the governor of the state of Zulia, who was defeated by Hugo Chávez many years ago; Henrique Capriles, another former candidate who ran twice against the juggernaut of the regime; Juan Guaidó himself, and a few others, including a comedian who is making headway.

Whatever happens, the challenge the opposition faces is monumental, not the least because several potential candidates are banned from holding office. Still, the presidential election will be held in 2024. Maduro will try to seek his third six-year term through another rigged process, giving the opposition another chance to reinvent itself. Let us hope they seize it and, against all odds, shake the foundations of a regime that looks depressingly strong today.

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.
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