Which government does the United States recognise in Venezuela?

Juan Guaidó meets former Brazillian President Jair Bolsonaro
Juan Guaidó (right) meets Brazillian President Jair Bolsonaro in 2019. Photo: Marcos Corrêa/Palácio do Planalto/Flickr

Shaun Tandon of Agence France-Presse asked United States State Department spokesperson Ned Price about Venezuela on January 3. In late December, the Venezuelan opposition, after a fractious debate, decided to dissolve the “interim government” led by Juan Guaidó. From 2019 onward, the US government recognised Guaidó as the “interim president of Venezuela”. With the end of Guaidó’s administration, Tandon asked if “the United States still recognize[s] Juan Guaidó as legitimate interim president”.

Price’s answer was that the US government recognises the “only remaining democratically elected institution in Venezuela today, and that’s the 2015 National Assembly”. It is true that when the US government supported Guaidó as the “interim president” of Venezuela, it did so because of his role as the rotating president in the National Assembly in 2019. Since the presidency of the National Assembly rotates annually, Guaidó should have left the position of “interim president” by the end of 2020. But he did not, going against Article 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution of 1999, which he cited as the basis for his ascension in 2019.

Price said: “The 2015 National Assembly has renewed its mandate.” However, that assembly was dissolved since its term expired and it was replaced — after an election in December 2020 — by another National Assembly. The US government called the 2020 election a “political farce”. But when I met the leaders of Venezuela’s two historic opposition parties in Venezuela in 2020 — Pedro José Rojas of Acción Democrática (AD) and Juan Carlos Alvarado of Comité de Organización Política Electoral Independiente (COPEI) — they told me that the 2020 election was legitimate and that they just did not know how to overrun the massive wave of Chavista voters. Since the members of the new assembly took their seats, the 2015 assembly has not set foot in the Palacio Federal Legislativo, which houses the National Assembly, near Plaza Bolívar in Caracas.

In essence, then, the US government believes that the real democratic institution in Venezuela is one that has not met in seven years, and one whose political forces decided — against the advice of AD and COPEI — to boycott the 2020 election.

Meanwhile, in early January, Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro spoke with veteran journalist Ignacio Ramonet. Maduro told Ramonet that he is “prepared for dialogues at the highest level and with relations of respect”. He hoped that “a halo of light” would reach the office of US President Joe Biden and allow the US to put its “extremist policy aside”. Not only did Price refuse this olive branch, but he also said that the US approach to “Nicolás Maduro is not changing”. This is an awkward statement, since members of Price’s own government went to Caracas in March and June of 2022 to meet with the Maduro administration and talk about the normalisation of oil sales and the release of detained US citizens.

Meanwhile, Tandon’s question hangs over the White House.

[This article was produced by Globetrotter. Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.]