Much like the warring families in George R.R. Martin’s bestselling fiction series Game of Thrones, Juan Guaidó and Nicolás Maduro have allies from beyond their borders which, like in the ending of the fictional series, just might determine who will sit on the throne, or in this case, the Palacio de Milaflores.
Picture this— the year is 2017 and it has been almost a year after the U.S. presidential elections. Government offices are in lockdown, streets are lined up with protesters and military men, rallying behind one of two presidential candidates who are battling over the seat at the Oval Office. Dystopic images and an electoral college aside, this is exactly what Venezuela is facing at the moment. Since January of 2019, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela- once the shining beacon of democracy in the Latin American region- is being run by two presidents both claiming legitimacy over each other and both sides show no desire to stop anytime soon.
To be able to understand how this is happening and why this battle royale still persists almost after a year, it is crucial to look at how Venezuelan politics has changed in the past twenty years, or to be more specific, since Hugo Chávez came into power. After a few infamously failed coups and finally a landslide victory in the 1998 elections, Hugo Rafael Chávez was sworn as the 45th president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in February of 1999. Throughout his four terms as president, he perpetrated a series of undeniably undemocratic manoeuvres like manipulating electoral laws, suppressing the press, packing the Supreme Court and the electoral council with allies, and arresting and exiling government critics. By doing these things, he successfully ensured the undisturbed/unperturbed continuation of his and his chosen successor’s administration— well, until the 2018 elections happened.
2018 presidential elections
In February 2018, Venezuela’s electoral authorities–a widely known pro-administration-packed institution– suddenly announced the date of the elections and to everyone’s surprise it was eight months before the supposed December 2018 elections. By May 2019, incumbent president and Chávez successor Nicolas Maduro was re-elected for a second term.
Much like the one before it, the 2018 Venezuelan elections was met with protests both domestically and internationally. Despite rampant boycotts and numerous accusations of election fraud, Maduro took his oath and was sworn in on January 10th of 2019. Two weeks after, on January 23rd in an anti-government rally in Caracas, Juan Guaidó, the forefront of the opposition and then newly-minted president of the National Assembly (Venezuela’s unicameral legislature) and, declared himself the interim president of the country, stating that he would be assuming the powers of the executive branch until free and fair elections could be held.
Allies of the throne
Quite unsurprisingly, Maduro’s main supporters come from anti-American and/or oil-reliant states like Turkey, Syria, and Iran; some left-leaning Latin American countries such as Cuba, Bolivia, and Nicaragua; other small Caribbean nations such as Dominica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Trinidad and Tobago; and more importantly, Russia and China, who are Venezuela’s primary investors and creditors.
On the other hand, support for Guaidó is comparably more far-reaching. Days after his pronouncement, Guaidó was quickly recognized as interim president by the United States, Canada, a dozen of European countries including Britain, Germany, France, and regional organizations such as the Organization of American States or the OAS (which includes Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru, United States, and others), and the Lima Group composed of neighboring countries. All-in-all, Guaidó’s claim to the presidency is currently being supported by 60 countries. Leading the rally for support is the United States who has explicitly showed its support for Guaidó by offering aid and even border support.
Although Juan Guaidó is supported by all of these countries and a couple of extra-regional bodies, the opposition have little to no practical power within Venezuela itself, at least, not enough to actually and legitimately gain the presidency back because Maduro still holds arguably the most important key in staying in power— the military. Right after Maduro was sworn-in as president, the Venezuelan armed forces renewed their pledge of loyalty to him.
Of dragons and military interventions
With an annual inflation rate of 1,300,000%, soaring poverty and crime rates, and not to mention one of the largest migration crises in the Western hemisphere, Venezuela is in a nosedive into state implosion and prolonging the dispute for the presidency is only making it worse. Contending and fighting against the blatantly undemocratic administration under Maduro is certainly a step in the right direction, but it’s almost a year after the opposition rally and Guaidó’s declaration and an effective an realistic resolution still hasn’t turned up.
Whichever side anyone is on, there’s no doubt that the Venezuelan crisis is no longer a domestic one and the urgency to offer up solutions and aid from countries who are capable is at an all-time high. Although international intervention (in any form) looks to be the quickest and most effective solution, history has taught us lessons from the United States and Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, and other similar cases of international military intervention. As the three dragons in Game of Thrones proved, might and power in itself is useful in gaining power, but it will take more than that to be able to stay in it. In Venezuela’s case, the support of either domestic or international military forces will almost definitely help determine who gets to be the real president, but as to how that president will be able to stay in position, that is still the bigger- and probably more important- question.