Advanced Search

Weekly Report - 14 May 2020 (WR-20-19)

Click here for printer friendly version
Click here for full report

VENEZUELA: Guaidó fighting for survival

Juan Guaidó has endured some uncomfortable weeks since he assumed the presidency of the opposition-controlled national assembly and decided to take on the de facto government led by Nicolás Maduro over 16 months ago, but nothing compares with the last one. Widely recognised as Venezuela’s interim president, Guaidó has tried to duck allegations of involvement in the contracting of mercenaries to carry out an armed operation, ‘Gideon’, to “extract” Maduro and close allies [WR-20-18], claiming it was all “a show staged by the dictatorship”. But his remonstrations have failed to convince even his principal allies within the opposition coalition, throwing his leadership into question.

Maduro is revelling in Guaidó’s discomfiture. “Never before in history has a politician signed a contract to assassinate [it was actually to abduct] a president of the Republic, but this is what Juan Guaidó, [and two of his advisers] JJ Rendón and [Sergio] Vergara did,” Maduro said on 7 May. Maduro said that the 41-page contract with the US-based security company Silvercorp bears the signature of Guaidó and serves as proof of “the moral and political degradation of the opposition”.

Maduro’s censure is one thing but more disquieting for Guaidó is the criticism levelled at him by some of his key allies. “For years we have been rejecting Cuban interference in our country unequivocally and now we equally emphatically reject the contracting of illegal groups,” Primero Justicia (PJ), the closest political ally of Guaidó’s Voluntad Popular (VP) party, said in a statement published on 8 May.

PJ directly criticised Guaidó, insisting that “it is not enough to say that the operation by an illegal group was infiltrated by the intelligence services of the Maduro regime”. It called on Guaidó to dismiss any official linked with the operation, and for an independent investigation to be carried out by the national assembly to try and assign responsibility.

The PJ also condemned the episode for “frustrating our people and destroying confidence between those fighting for political change”. It called for “re-establishing decision-making mechanisms” within the opposition, which looks like an effort to circumscribe Guaidó’s power, and a tacit criticism of the strategic committee he formed (on which political strategist Rendón and former deputy Vergara sat) to explore ways to remove Maduro from power. It was this committee that signed the contract with Silvercorp on the opposition’s behalf last October.

The PJ statement forced Guaidó to act. Rendón and Vergara resigned on 11 May. Rendón admitted to paying US$50,000 to Silvercorp to cover initial “expenses”, arguing in his letter of resignation that he had “put the cause above all other considerations”. Both men insisted that the strategic committee had notified Silvercorp on 8 November last year that they would not be proceeding with the exploratory agreement they had signed; that they were unaware of Operation Gideon, still less sanctioned it; and that Guaidó knew nothing about any of it.

It is difficult to imagine that, whatever the precise nature of the agreement with Silvercorp, Rendón and Vergara would have taken a unilateral decision to sign a contract with the security company without consulting Guaidó. This would suggest that they fell on their swords to protect him. Guaidó thanked both men for their “dedication and commitment” to try and restore democracy in Venezuela. He defended the creation of the strategic committee, which answered directly to him, saying it was only meant to “evaluate possible scenarios” to remove “a narco-dictatorship”. Guaidó stressed that this was “very different to [approving] the regrettable action” that took place on 3 and 4 May. He maintained that the botched operation suited the Maduro government’s propaganda purposes. This is true but evades the issue of responsibility for it.

Guaidó called for the creation of a government of national emergency to combat the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19) in Venezuela, contending that Maduro is using the operation to distract attention from the country’s real problems. “The end is inevitable,” Guaidó maintained. But for whom? The failed operation underscored the continued support of the military for Maduro and the effectiveness of counter-intelligence measures to prop up his government, while causing renewed friction within the disparate opposition coalition. As long as Guaidó continues to enjoy the backing of the US government, the opposition is likely to be reluctant to pull its support for him, but the operation has exposed a crisis of confidence in his leadership. Opposition parties share the common goal of restoring the rule of law in Venezuela, but they do not all agree on using methods which are outside the law to achieve this.

Maduro and Guaidó

Nicolás Maduro branded Juan Guaidó “a fugitive from justice” on 10 May; Guaidó responded by tweeting a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) poster with Maduro’s face and the reward of US$15m for information leading to his arrest on charges of narco-terrorism [WR-20-13].

‘Terrorist mercenaries’

Eight more “terrorist mercenaries” were arrested in relation to ‘Operation Gideon’ on 10 May, the commander of strategic operations in the Bolivarian armed forces (FANB), Remigio Ceballos, said. This brings the number of those arrested to more than 50, including a nephew of retired former Venezuelan army general Clíver Alcalá, who worked in coordination with the head of Silvercorp, Jordan Goudreau. The attorney general, Tarek Saab, requested that Interpol issue a Red alert for Goudreau, and Juan Guaidó’s advisers, Sergio Vergara and J J Rendón, based in the US.