Juan Guaidó, Venezuela’s US-backed opposition leader, has been given the green light by his own ranks to remain head of the self-styled “interim government” for another year, although his powers have been curtailed.
The opposition congress, which claims to be the country’s legitimate legislative body, voted late Monday to extend Guaidó’s mandate until January 4, 2023. It would expire this week.
Guaidó, who claims to be the Venezuelan president on the basis he is head of the opposition congress, welcomed Monday’s vote, which came after days of strife within the opposition over how much power to give him.
“What we have achieved will enable us to continue the fight for truly free, fair and verifiable elections,” his team said in a statement.
But the 38-year-old did not have things his own way. Members of Congress amended the statute which stipulates what he can and cannot do, gave more power to themselves and took it away from Guaidó.
For example, a member of Congress insisted that from now on Guaidó must appear before a congressional commission once a month to account for his government’s actions. Until now, he has not been expected to do so.
He will also face stricter restrictions on who he can appoint to the ad hoc boards of the state-owned oil company PDVSA and US-based refiner Citgo. These ad hoc boards were compiled in 2019 as competitors of the Nicolás Maduro-controlled boards of the two companies.
Juan Manuel Raffalli, a Venezuelan constitutional lawyer, said the move was a “very important change”, which transformed the interim government from one based on “pure presidentialism” to one that belongs to Congress.
The measures are designed to make Guaidó’s administration more accountable. Some members of the Venezuelan opposition say he and his party, Popular Will, have exceeded their mandate and disregarded the views of other people and parties within the opposition bloc.
Last month, Guaidó’s foreign envoy Julio Borges resigned and launched a lightning strike on the interim government and said it should “disappear completely”.
“Instead of being an instrument to fight the dictatorship, the interim government has merely become an end in itself,” Borges said. “We lost legitimacy and international support because there were too many contradictions, too many mistakes, too many scandals.”
Washington and other world powers, including the UK, will now have to decide whether to follow suit and to extend their recognition of Guaidó. The US government has said it will, while diplomatic sources say London is sure to do so.
The decision has potential implications for Venezuelan assets held abroad, including some $ 1.9 billion worth of gold held in Bank of England vaults. The UK says the money belongs to Guaidó’s administration, not Maduro’s, arguing that Guaidó is Venezuela’s legitimate leader.
Francisco Rodríguez, international business associate at the Council on Foreign Relations, an American think tank, said the changes to Guaidó’s mandate could make it easier for creditors who owe money owed by Venezuela to go to state assets as compensation.
“The more the National Assembly controls [congress] take from the management of state-owned firms, the easier it is for creditors to make the case before international courts that the Venezuelan government exercises ‘extensive control’, which is one of the key tests to determine whether these firms are an alter ego of the government, ”he said.
“Once you can establish an alter ego, you can go after PDVSA assets to collect Venezuelan debt.
“This is what Crystallex could do,” Rodríguez said, referring to a landmark lawsuit which the Canadian mining company Crystallex brought against Venezuela. “These reforms leave the door wide open for other creditors to do the same.”