Juan Guaidó Proposed a National Agreement. What Does It Mean?

The opposition leader leans into a less confrontational stance and launches an effort to lead the pro-negotiation field

Photo: Twitter, via @jguaido

Today, Juan Guaidó, the Speaker of the last legally elected National Assembly, posted a video on social media where, after insisting in opposition unity against the common enemy of the dictatorship, he calls for a national agreement between the opposition, the forces that support the Maduro regime and the international community, to organize a calendar of real presidential and local elections with international observation and guarantees for all participants in exchange for a potential progressive lifting of international sanctions against the chavista government.  

This is a noticeable shift in Guaidó’s stance since he assumed the role of caretaker president in January 2019, after the Venezuelan parliament rejected the reelection of Nicolás Maduro—the 2018 presidential election violated the process established in the Constitution. Guaidó has been a clear supporter of international economic sanctions to pressure Maduro to leave power; he was the main figure of the 2019 protests; and took part in the attempt to spark a military rebellion on April 30th, 2019. Although he was declared an outlaw by the regime, the authorities wouldn’t dare touch him. The lack of results (directed at toppling the regime) and the inability to hold the alliance around him, however, have caused an important loss of popularity and influence.

Time passed, and the “caretaker government” strategy was proven ineffective. The people became restless. Allies became restless. So, as we have thoroughly reported in our Political Risk Report, other actors in the opposition started their own Plan B, more focused on rebuilding the conditions for a functional political competition through negotiations—which implied displacing the current opposition leadership (Guaidó). This strategy balanced the evident exhaustion of the confrontational strategy with the regime’s “need” (or potential interest?) to reduce the pressure of sanctions, and the apparent moderate stance of the Biden administration towards the resolution of the Venezuelan political crisis.

In the last weeks, we’ve seen how the Maduro regime has sent some unilateral signals of awareness that it needs to, at least, pretend it’s open to negotiations. Six CITGO executives were granted house arrest; Tarek William Saab partially recognized three well known murder cases by the regime—councilman Fernando Albán, Captain Acosta and student Juan Pablo Pernalete were murdered by security agents—and the Maduro-controlled National Assembly appointed a new Electoral Board where two of the five directors are linked to the opposition. At the same time, actors of the opposition like Henrique Capriles and Carlos Ocariz are talking again about pushing for better conditions to later take part in elections, starting by choosing opposition candidates through primaries. The unitary platform of the main parties initially dismissed the new CNE as a serious achievement, which—in a way—showed a sidelined Guaidó, who seemed to be on the margins of the negotiating table, specially after seeing the EU and the U.S. having (one more than the other) at least an open mind towards the prospect of an election.

Meanwhile, the international community will wait and observe, especially the U.S., where the discourse remains the same: no sanction lifting without real concessions from the regime.

But now, the announcement by Guaidó, through a short but surprisingly effective social media video, in which he remains with a skeptic demeanor, grants him, at least, the opportunity to retake a more advantageous stance (or at least his seat) in the negotiations that may lead to elections. Which is certainly better than shouting from the sidelines. 

A couple of hours after Guaidó’s message, the CNE announced it had started preparations for a big regional election. In the following hours and days, we’ll surely see pro-sanction sectors calling Guaidó a traitor and a weakling (as they’ve been doing for months), the anti-sanctions advocacy talking about common sense and hope, and regime chieftains like Jorge Rodríguez using their half-hearted condescending tone to congratulate the opposition for apparently abandoning their campaign for a foreign invasion. Meanwhile, the international community will wait and observe, especially the U.S., where the discourse remains the same: no sanction lifting without real concessions from the regime. Colombia-based U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela James Story immediately supported Guaidó’s message and reiterated that “the U.S. and the international community will keep pressuring for concrete advancements.”

The final question is the same it’s been since the first time the opposition sat with chavismo to find a peaceful resolution to Venezuela’s political crisis: what will be the next step once chavismo torpedoes a negotiation process, when its main purpose is to take power from them. It’s unlikely that chavismo will merrilly work toward building a system that will guarantee free and fair elections solely with the promise of lifting sanctions and a better economic prospect for the country, and not even by ensuring billions in foreign investment that would most likely make their personal fortunes larger. In the end, the one thing that chavismo wants is the one thing that they’ll never have—or that they’ll never be convinced they’ll have: a free pass. It’s the same reason why negotiating peace in Colombia was so hard—and partially ineffective— and the same reason why the Castro regime is entrenched in Cuba. We know what’s likely to be chavismo’s next move. They’ll give it a little space, and then reject or sabotage (a word they love) any process that implies their acknowledgement of Guaidó’s leadership, as they’ve done many times before. And naturally, any process that could imply they’d be ousted from power.

Still, with the international community involved in the process, it’s interesting that Guaidó is calling all the players to show their cards.