Temporary Arrest of Venezuelan Opposition Leader was “Unauthorized”

Does the brief unauthorized arrest of National Assembly president Juan Guaido, who suggested that he take over from Nicolas Maduro, signal growing divisions within the government? We discuss the current situation in Venezuela after President Maduro’s recent inauguration with Lucas Koerner

Temporary Arrest of Venezuelan Opposition Leader was "Unauthorized"

Story Transcript

GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network, and I’m Greg Wilpert, coming to you from Baltimore.

Venezuela’s National Intelligence Service arrested Juan Guaido, the president of the legislature, the National Assembly, on Sunday. Guaido, who belongs to the right wing opposition party Popular Will, was released shortly after his arrest. Both President Maduro and Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez said that the arrest was not authorized, and that the arresting officers had been suspended and would be charged.

The unauthorized arrest, however, raises questions about whether the government is in full control over its own state security forces. President Nicolas Maduro was inaugurated for a second term last week, with many countries in Latin America and Europe, the United States, and Canada refusing to recognize Maduro as the country’s legitimate president. Then last Tuesday, Opposition leader Juan Guaido assumed the presidency of the National Assembly. After being sworn in, he had the following to say.

JUAN GUAIDO: A historic agreement is approved that I ask the secretary to send to the entire diplomatic corps accredited to our country, where this Congress assumes the power that the Constitution provides in articles 233, 333, and 350 of our Constitution, which allows us to advance clearly in the cessation of aspiration of the government, of transition, and of course, towards a free election. May God bless Venezuela, and our congressmen, who gladly assume a historical responsibility in our country.

[Luis] Almagro, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, posted a Twitter statement supporting Guaido’s pronouncement, calling Guaido Venezuela’s interim president.

Joining me now to analyze these recent developments in Venezuela is Lucas Koerner. Lucas is an editor for the website Venezuelanalysis.com, and is a masters student at Venezuela’s Institute for Advanced Studies. Normally he’s based in Caracas, but today he joins us from Philadelphia, in the U.S. Thanks for being here, Lucas.

LUCAS KOERNER: Great to be here, Greg.

GREG WILPERT: So let’s start with the brief arrest of Juan Guaido. Apparently Guido himself said that those who arrested him were sympathizing with the Opposition. What do you make of this? Is this yet another crack in the loyalty of Venezuela’s security forces, and could it represent deeper divisions in the government?

LUCAS KOERNER: I think it’s important to note that the National Bolivarean Intelligence Service is hardly a progressive or revolutionary institution. Its immediate institutional antecedent was the DISIP, which was the intelligence service, really the secret police that functioned under Venezuela’s oligarchic two-party representative democracy that preceded the Bolivarian revolution in 1999. And it was actually, you know, has been accused of and prosecuted for, its agents prosecuted, for numerous acts of torture, disappearance. Including most notably, actually, Jorge Rodriguez, the current communication minister, his father was tortured to death by the DISIP. In fact, one of my own sources within the security apparatus has informed me that a large proportion of many of the personnel within institutions like this again are, you know, sympathize with the right wing, being that there has not been a complete institutional overhaul of that apparatus.

So it’s perfectly conceivable that–what we know is that this hypothesis has been put out that there are elements that, in fact, what you said, they’ll confirm that agents within the SEBIN were openly cooperating with Guaido in an attempt to foment this kind of crisis that would delegitimize the government and create the opportunity for further external interference. So that is plausible, from what we know about the SEBIN and its institutional past.

GREG WILPERT: So then let’s turn to Juan Guaido. On what basis is he claiming to be interim president, actually? And who is he?

LUCAS KOERNER: This is where it gets–[inaudible]. Juan Guaido, before two weeks ago, was a virtually unknown 35-year-old lawmaker from La Guaira in Vargas state. He had studied at the Andres Bello Catholic University, went on to do postgrad study at George Washington University, and most notably IESA, which is basically Venezuela’s most important neoliberal think tank; basically the home of Venezuela’s Chicago [boy.] He joined the very far-right party of Leopoldo Lopez called Popular Will, and he was chosen just recently at the beginning of the year, I think on January 5, as president of the National Assembly. He invoked Article 233 of Venezuela’s Constitution, which specifies that under very certain circumstances, including the death of the president, a debilitating physical or mental occurrence, or a successful recall vote, among other–or basically a failure, the president’s inability to to fulfill his functions, abandoning his post–that the article can be invoked. And under those circumstances, within the first four years of the presidential term, the executive vice president will take over. If it’s the last two years, then it would be the president of the National Assembly.

So what Juan Guaido is–he’s claiming that, invoking this article for him to take over. However, a careful reading of this very constitutional article would really mean–would lead to the conclusion that only the vice president, if those circumstances had been met, which clearly they’re not, because Nicolas Maduro is firmly–you know, was just sworn in, and clearly is exercising his functions, and none of those conditions have been met. But if they had been met, it would be the executive vice president, and not Juan Guaido. Nonetheless, and I think this–the Opposition is in itself internally divided about this, as we saw with Claudio Fermin, who was Henry Falcon’s presidential campaign adviser in the May presidential election. He came out and called on the Opposition to return to Earth, and recognize that Nicolas Maduro is the president, and that’s a reality they have to deal with. And there’s also other figures, like Henrique Capriles, and there’s Ramos Allup, have also kind of distanced themselves from this more radical effort to completely refuse to recognize the the reality that Nicolas Maduro was elected president, and was just sworn in as the president of Venezuela.

GREG WILPERT: The Maduro government now is under siege from many different sides. It’s stuck in a multi-year economic crisis with hyperinflation, and occasionally government officials defect from the government, such as recently a Supreme Court judge who turned up in the U.S. last week. And internationally conservative governments in Latin America are refusing to recognize Maduro as president, with some even breaking diplomatic relations. So how do you see average Venezuelans reacting to this very, very difficult situation in Venezuela at the moment?

LUCAS KOERNER: Well, I think that we can get a picture of this by looking at the recent omnibus poll conducted by the conservative right-wing data analysis pollsters widely cited by the mainstream media from October of this past year that shows that for the vast majority of–around 86 percent–of Venezuelans say that their number one priority is either the economic situation in the country, or the social situation having to do with crime, or access to medicine, or public services, et cetera. And only around 12 percent view the political situation as the number one problem; i.e., you know, the government, and corruption, et cetera.

I mean, I think there is also–there’s extremely high dissatisfaction with political parties. Around 70 to 80 percent rejection of all political parties. And most Venezuelans now identify as independents, which is a very important development. And thirdly, something is very [omitted,] Venezuela’s National Assembly is included in the 70 percent disapproval rating which, you know, presumably would–Juan Guaido is a member of that, is part of that.

So I think that there is not–Venezuelans are not–they are, they want this economic crisis to be resolved. They want to be able to go back to living their lives with some semblance of normality; without, you know, violent antigovernment protests, or coup attempts, or you know, and being able to access basic goods and medicines. In other words they want some kind of return to normality; [inaudible] tensions, or what Washington and the Lima Group [inaudible] Lima Group, are likewise in their intensification of the economic blockade of Venezuela. Obviously that’s not going to be conducive to that, of course. You know, they’re equally–Venezuelans are equally critical of the government which has, you know, failed to take any kind of substantive economic measures to resolve the crisis, and it’s really focused on very short-term kinds of salary increases, et cetera, that are that are rapidly eaten away by the hyperinflation.

GREG WILPERT: Now, some who are critical of the Maduro government but who haven’t joined the Opposition, such as Maduro’s former chief of staff while he was foreign minister, Temir Porras, have argued that Maduro should engage in serious dialogue with the opposition to resolve the country’s incredibly difficult situation. Maduro himself, actually, during his inauguration also offered to engage in dialogue. But is there any chance of this happening given how internally divided the Opposition is, and how relatively strong, actually, the government is?

JUAN GUAIDO: I think that Washington is the key factor to whether a real substantive dialogue takes place. You know, given that most of the Opposition is dependent through financing, but also just generally, politically, upon those decisions that are made within the Trump administration or various political backers, like Senator Marco Rubio in Florida. And I think the quite intransigent position taken from Washington, the recent news that Trump is considering recognizing Juan Guaido as president of Venezuela, this further emboldens the, you know, the hardline positions in the Opposition that the short-term visions of trying to overthrow the government, even by force, in the short term, and basically–you know, kind of an April 11, 2002-style scenario, and basically impose economic restructuring along neoliberal economic lines, et cetera, going after Chavistas, political persecution. This is one–obviously, I think this model of transition has the upper hand, as evidence what we’re seeing now, as opposed to others like Henrique Capriles or Claudio Fermin, Henry Falcon, and Ramos Allup, who favor a more negotiated transition via elections, and would be, indeed, open to dialogue.

But I think as long as Washington continues to up the tension with new rounds of economic sanctions, and you know, other threats that we’ve been seeing, those who wish to negotiate a settlement through the existing Democratic positional framework will be marginalized.

GREG WILPERT: That’s a good point. OK, we’re going to have to leave it there, though. I was speaking to Lucas Koerner, editor for Venezuelanalysis.com. Thanks again, Lucas, for having joined us today.

LUCAS KOERNER: Thanks for having me, Greg.

GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.