Trump’s Second Thoughts on Juan Guaido are Not Enough

After the president’s change of heart on Venezuela, and the waning of Juan Guaidó and his party, the entire Washington political establishment have a lot of explaining to do, says Steve Ellner.

President Donald J. Trump welcomes Juan Guaido, as interim president of Venezuela, to the White House on Feb. 5, 2020. (White House, Tia Dufour)

By Steve Ellner
Special to Consortium News

After nearly a year and a half of all-out efforts at regime change in Venezuela which took a major toll on the Venezuelan people, Donald Trump now tells the world he was never big on the strategy in the first place. On Friday, the U.S. president appeared to shove the blame onto advisers, and added “I think that I wasn’t necessarily in favor” of the policy of recognizing Juan Guaidó as president, but “I was OK with it.”

Trump’s statements made it seem as if Guaidó’s only sin was that he did not manage to seize power. This might-makes-right mindset belies what is happening on the ground in Venezuela which is much more complicated than just one leader’s approval rating. It also ignores the horrendous suffering of the Venezuelan people due to crippling sanctions imposed in August 2019, the result of a foreign policy decision that Trump now brushes off as a simple mistake.

A price is being paid even by those in Washington who are singularly concerned with U.S. prestige. The real story is that Washington placed all its faith in an untested leader of a radical, somewhat fringe, party; that strong resentment against the U.S. is now being expressed among Venezuelan leaders and voters who previously thought differently; and that with Trump’s recent statements, U.S. credibility sinks to an all-time low.

The latest news on Trump’s change of heart requires an analysis of the sea of change that has occurred politically in Venezuela. Such an analysis is much needed because Trump’s statement is unexplainable for those whose only source of information on Venezuela is the mainstream media. The analysis is also urgent because this week the White House is walking back Trump’s statement at the same time that Joe Biden is opposing any change in policy.

In spite of these words in favor of staying the course, events have shown that our man in Venezuela, Juan Guaidó, has proved to be adept at (in the words of Bloomberg News) “diplomatic grandstanding” but completely lacking in political realism.

Guaidó’s Recent Botches, One After Another

Venezuela’s Delcy Rodriguez in 2016.

The day before Trump’s statements, Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodríguez released several audios pertaining to the oil-giant CITGO which showed how incompetent or corrupt – or both – the U.S.-backed parallel government of Guaidó is.

In February, Guaidó named José Ignacio Hernández as “special attorney,” even though he had formerly represented the Canadian mining company Crystallex in a successful attempt to convince U.S. courts that the Venezuelan government’s debt to the company entitled it to partial ownership of CITGO.

Vice President Rodríguez presented evidence to demonstrate that Hernández is now working for ConocoPhillips, which is also trying to get its hands on CITGO. On May 28, a court in Delaware gave the greenlight to proceed with the sale of CITGO in order to compensate Crystallex. The decision was a blow not only to the Venezuelan nation but also the Guaidó “government,” which the Trump administration had recognized as CITGO’s legitimate owner. Rodríguez’s audios showed how little Hernández was representing Guaidó and company. Just hours later, Hernández announced his resignation.

The CITGO scandal is just the latest in a series of blunders and fiascos which have discredited Guaidó. Last year, the pro-opposition pollster Luis Vicente León reported that trust in Guaidó had plunged from 63 percent at the outset of his initial regime change schemes in January to 40 percent. With the coronavirus crisis underway, another prominent polling firm Hinterlaces, which has displayed greater sympathy for the government, reported that 85 percent of Venezuelans approved the way Maduro was handling the pandemic and 81 percent favored government-opposition negotiations, which Maduro supports and Guaidó has largely opposed.

Then in May came the botched military coastal incursion from Colombia with the aim of capturing Maduro, a venture that was backed by Guaidó and ended up further eroding trust in him. Guaidó pledged $213 million to the scheme, thus raising questions regarding the source of the money and how it is being administered.

Foes of Guaidó in the Opposition

Vice President Mike Pence and Juan Guaido meet with Venezuelan migrants Monday, Feb. 25, 2019, in Bogota, Colombia. (White House, D. Myles Cullen)

Another incident which called to question the handling of vast amounts of cash was Guaidó’s removal of Humberto Calderón Berti as his “ambassador” to Colombia in November 2019. Calderón Berti reported that humanitarian aid destined to Venezuela was getting siphoned off by opposition operatives. He told reporters “I did not invent this. Colombian authorities alerted me and showed me documents.” Accusations went back and forth but the fact of the matter is that, unlike everyone else involved, the 79-year old Calderón Berti is a reputable statesman and former foreign relations minister with a reputation for personal honesty.

The role of another long-standing politician with an impeccable reputation of personal integrity poses a much greater challenge to Guaidó from within the opposition camp. Claudio Fermín, Caracas’ first elected mayor in 1989, has emerged as the leading figure of Venezuela’s moderate opposition. Fermín since the outset of his career has been conservative on economic policy (as are most other “moderate” opposition leaders) and thus can hardly be accused of being a fellow traveler of the Chavistas (followers of Hugo Chávez).

Up until late last year, the moderates, who favor electoral participation and reject the radical right’s non-institutional road to power, were intimidated by Washington’s support for regime change that was seconded by the international commercial media. But in late last year, the moderates went on the offensive when for the first time they unified by grouping in the National Roundtable Dialogue (MDN).

White House National Security Advisor John Bolton speaks to reporters on events occurring in Venezuela, April 30, 2019, outside the West Wing. (White House, Tia Dufour)

MDN congresspeople who are dissident members of the main political parties, with the votes of the Chavistas, elected a new president of the National Assembly to replace Guaidó. As a result, the National Assembly split in two bodies, each claiming to be legitimate.

The moderates not only achieved organizational unity, but they began to lash out at the intransigent opposition which, following the line coming from the Trump administration, accepted negotiations only with regard to the terms in which Maduro was to step down from office.

Amazingly, Fermín, whose political background is anything but leftist, accused the Guaidó leadership of collaborating with the imperialists. “Imperialism,” he declared “for the first time is cooking in Venezuelan ovens… It’s the first time we have seen Venezuelans imploring that they intervene in our country.”

Fermín and the MDN openly broke with the radical opposition’s and Washington’s narrative that the entire Venezuelan political system is illegitimate.

Not only does Fermín explicitly recognize the legitimacy of the Maduro presidency, but also the nation’s political institutions. Indeed, the MDN took the initiative of going to the supreme court to argue that the National Assembly, due to internal divisions, would never achieve the two thirds vote necessary to renovate the national electoral commission, and requested that the court appoint its five new members.

The court’s move was denounced by Washington as well as the European Union.

December Boycott

Legislative Palace, Caracas, Venezuela. (Wilfredor, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Much is at stake, as the electoral commission will supervise upcoming elections for a new National Assembly that is slated for December. Fermín, who is already preparing to participate in the contest, rules out “any type of alliance with those who defend sanctions and economic blockades against the nation.”

Two of the five new CNE members belong to the opposition and pledge their allegiance to Guaidó but oppose his boycott of the December elections. One of them, Luis Gutiérrez, is the brother of Democratic Action’s organizational secretary. Democratic Action (AD), one of the largest parties of the opposition, is on record for rejecting participation in the December elections but is subject to intense, if not internecine, internal debate over the matter.

The U.S. State Department has threatened to include Gutiérrez in its sanction list.

AD’s internal strife over electoral participation demonstrates how much Venezuelan politics has changed from a year ago when Guaidó counted on the support of the entire opposition in his efforts to topple the Maduro government.

The other big opposition party, Primero Justicia, is also subject to infighting with its ex-presidential candidate Henrique Capriles open to electoral participation. .Bloomberg reports that several Primero Justicia congresspeople have recently called on the State Department to pull its support for Guaidó and switch to the less intransigent Capriles.

A Fringe Party

Next to Primero Justicia and Democratic Action, Guaidó’s Popular Will is a small fringe party, whose major strength lies in the unwavering support its leaders receive from Washington.

Guaidó and his allies attribute the emergence of the MDN to government payoffs to its leaders.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin slapped sanctions on seven MDN congressmen who he labeled “corrupt” and claimed they “tried to block the democratic process in Venezuela.”But the MDN cannot be dismissed that easily. The surveys show majority support for the MDN position on electoral participation and opposition to the new round of abstentionism proposed by the radical right.

In the face of such sharp public opinion shifts in Venezuela, Washington confronts the dilemma of whether to revise its Venezuela policy. But both Trump advisers and Biden are unconvinced by Trump’s realistic assessment expressed on Friday.

On Monday, Trump’s press secretary Kayleigh McEnany stated, “Nothing has changed. He [Trump] continues to recognize Juan Guaido as the leader of Venezuela.” Biden, for his part, criticized Trump’s willingness to talk to “thugs and dictators like Nicolas Maduro.

These statements are all the more reason to consider what is happening on the ground in Venezuela, as opposed to the wishful thinking of Washington pundits and policy makers as well as commercial media spins.

Washington’s real challenge, along with the corporate media, is how to explain that after calling for a military coup in Venezuela, implementing draconian measures against the Venezuelan economy, labeling Maduro a narcoterrorist, and depositing complete faith in Guaidó, Trump now has had a change of heart. Not only Trump but the entire Washington political establishment have a lot of explaining to do.

Steve Ellner is a retired professor at the Universidad de Oriente in Venezuela and currently an associate managing editor of Latin American Perspectives. He is the editor of “Latin America’s Pink Tide: Breakthrough and Shortcomings” (2020) and “Latin American Extractivism: Dependency, Resource Nationalism and Resistance in Broad Perspective” (to be released later this year).

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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18 comments for “Trump’s Second Thoughts on Juan Guaido are Not Enough

  1. June 28, 2020 at 14:27

    Unreal how blatant a power-grab this is, and even more incredible that anyone believes a word coming out of the mouths of Trump, Biden, the puppet-man Guiado, etc. Sickening. Here’s a novel-approach- let Venezuela do Venezuela.

  2. Vera Gottlieb
    June 27, 2020 at 14:52

    The US has a lot of explaining to do to the entire world.

  3. Eric
    June 26, 2020 at 20:20

    “Guaidó’s Popular Will is a small fringe party, whose major strength lies
    in the unwavering support its leaders receive from Washington” … and Ottawa.

    The Canadian caddy carrying Uncle Sam’s golf clubs is too often overlooked.

  4. rosemerry
    June 26, 2020 at 17:08

    This whole discussion should not be taking place. There was at no stage any right for the USA to interfere, and I note that Trump’s sanctions followed those already put in place by Obama, and the “Democratic Party” has supported the continuation and hardening of all these illegal actions,as both Parties have for twenty years. The USA interferes, always to the detriment of the people there, in so many nations who dare to elect governments the people want.
    The random guy claimed to be the “interim president” has absolutely no legitimacy, but the USA (and to its shame, the EU) jumped in to accept him, when the Venezuelan elections had clearly made Maduro the president.
    Since Hugo Chavez brought some real democracy and genuine improvements to the lives of the vast majority of his people he has been vilified and given no credit for his tremendous achievements before his untimely death in 2013. The cruelty of the USA continues.

  5. June 26, 2020 at 14:49

    good piece on the ongoing evolution in relations between maduro & the oppositi9on forces, but this needs an update–always look at what trump does over what he says. he’s since walked back his comments on guiado, there’s a navy destroyer 14 miles off the coast of venezuela.

  6. Aaron
    June 26, 2020 at 12:58

    Well with one notable exception, I think US approval/credibility/popularity, etc. may be at an all-time high…in Israel. Which speaks volumes about what’s going on here.

  7. Jeff Harrison
    June 26, 2020 at 11:31

    What business does the US have in determining the government of Venezuela? Yes, we have the power to perpetrate these acts of economic and political warfare but that doesn’t make them legitimate. And the UN shouldn’t be allowing us to get away with these acts of political and economic warfare as violations of the UN charter.

  8. AnneR
    June 26, 2020 at 10:36

    We (western nations led by the USA) have NO right, whatsoever, to overthrow other nations’ govts – even less those that are fully legitimate as Chavez’s was and Maduro’s is. Of course, we don’t do these despicable, barbaric things because we care about what kind of govt rules in none European stock nations around the world; all we care about is that they DO AS WE TELL them to, grant full access to their natural resources to our corporations that we can benefit the most – not the native inhabitants; and that they eschew ALL leanings, all attempts at creating anything approaching a socialist society. We in our utter Hubris, Arrogance and determination to rule the world really believe (it seems) that we have the RIGHT to enforce our will wherever. And do so in ways that are utterly heinous – siege warfare (economic sanctions), bombing, invading, using weapons that leave lasting damage on the land (Agent Orange) and peoples (Agent Orange, depleted uranium).

    And of course there are always, within Latin American countries particularly, those descendants of European stock who believe that they should be the ones to decide the fate of the indigenous, the lands of the indigenous, to profit mightily from the exploitation of both native peoples and resources along with the hegemon. The greedy, racist compradores. Those who were quite happy with the indigenous, the African descendants (once enslaved) being impoverished, denied education, healthcare, full participation in the life of the country that is theirs.

    It is no surprise at all that Biden is a full on govt overthrow politico – he served in Obama’s govt (Libya; Syria; Ukraine), was in the Senate for years during the Clinton and Bush years…No objections, so far as I know, to any “regime” change efforts on these barbarians’ part. Biden – Trump: wherein lies any really existing difference in worldview re the US v the rest of the world? Biden lies are delivered more smoothly, but they are still lies. He is still (as are all the Blue Faces and Red Faces) fully on board with the MIC deciding on the fate of any and all peoples across the world…Grotesque, barbaric all of them.

    WE via our sanctions are causing Venezuela’s hunger, reduced ability to provide health care to its people. But that’s the intent. It’s known full well that this is what economic sanctions do to peoples. So all who are on board (all of the US Congress, the WH and the MIC in all its guises) are killers, human rights abusers. All of them.

    • Sam F
      June 26, 2020 at 19:43

      Maybe we could find an organization of US citizens injured financially by particular sanctions as in Venezuela, and sue the USG for a pattern of racketeering crime resulting from its sanctions, ideally for amounts comparable with the sanctions damage.

      Another possibility is to find survivors of persons whose deaths were most directly caused by the effects of US sanctions, and see whether the ICC would consider sanctions as a war crime causing predictable deaths by economic war. The US refuses to sign that Treaty of Rome but it would be embarrassed as with Palestine by a world consensus against its actions. Perhaps someone could research that or inquire with former Spanish judge Garzon involved in Assange’s defense.

  9. Piotr Berman
    June 26, 2020 at 10:35

    Refusing to recognize plain facts and reality is developed to fine arts in American establishment, Trump has some slips of the tongue, but as it is his mode of operation, those slips never lead to some more humane or rational (not exclusive!) policies.

    After all, he shares most of weird believes of our establishment. For example, the highest honor, much coveted, that a foreign leader may get is to meet POTUS. There are disputes who deserves that. And Trump bestowed that honor to North Korean Kim, Putin and is ready (almost?) to do it to Maduro. The specter of Trump offering mediation already scared Indians and Chinese alike, one of the few points of consensus.

  10. Randolph Garrison
    June 26, 2020 at 09:43

    The International Court should be all over this and the attempted theft of the country!

  11. Sam F
    June 26, 2020 at 09:11

    Jimmy Carter noted that the US “does not have a functioning democracy” but observed the elections in Venezuela to be fair. So the people of the US need to know which thugs and dictators paid Biden to denounce the elected president of that democracy as a thug and dictator.

  12. Skip Scott
    June 26, 2020 at 08:28

    “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out.”- Karl Rove

    Looks like Empire is having a bit of a problem trying to create “Reality” in Venezuela. Trump doesn’t like being seen as a “loser” on any issue, so he flops around like a fish out of water. While that is inconvenient for Empire, it is not insurmountable as long as he winds up doing their bidding at the end of the day.

    It will be interesting to see if Biden makes it past Milwaukee. They can’t keep Uncle Joe locked in the basement forever, but we can be assured that whoever is destined to become standard bearer for the DNC they will be a carefully vetted warmonger from column B.
    That is one reality Empire still creates successfully.


    June 26, 2020 at 01:05

    “I think that I wasn’t necessarily in favor” of the policy of recognizing Juan Guaidó as president, but “I was OK with it.”

    The words of a halfwit.

    • Piotr Berman
      June 26, 2020 at 10:38

      Quite possibly, on many key policies, Obama also “was not necessarily in favor, but he was OK with them”, but he was a smooth talker. The more things change…

  14. paul easton
    June 26, 2020 at 00:28

    It makes no sense to plan to vote for Biden. It would only legitimate the failure of our formerly democratic system. A system that offers us a choice between Biden and Trump offers no hope, and needs to fall. It makes no sense to participate in such an antidemocratic system.

    • bevin
      June 26, 2020 at 11:52

      It makes no sense to endorse the DNC’s corruption of the primary process by voting for Biden. But participation, in the sense of support for Third Party candidates, is quite reasonable. Those running the duopoly rely on left wing critics generally to support the Democrats nominee, and, at worst, to abstain. What makes sense is for all those who want a decent foreign policy, reduced military spending, a renewal of social safety nets and an end to mass incarceration to identify themselves and call on all supporting their positions to join them.
      Since the Democrats will not allow such policies to be pursued within the party, they must be pursued outside of it.

  15. Roger Milbrandt
    June 25, 2020 at 23:54

    This is an extraordinarily illuminating commentary on the remarkable transformations currently occurring in the Venezuelan opposition. One hopes this article is widely circulated and carefully discussed.

Comments are closed.