Venezuela: Juan Guaidó Calls for Mass Rallies to Honor ‘Health Heroes’

CARACAS, VENEZUELA - MARCH 10: Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, recognized by many members of the international community as the country's rightful interim ruler, waves to supporters as he arrives at the session of the National Assembly in the Alfredo Sadel square in the east of the city on March …
Leonardo Fernandez Viloria/Getty Images

Juan Guaidó, the legal president of Venezuela, urged people in the country on Monday to join a rally celebrating “health heroes” fighting the Chinese coronavirus pandemic — a small-scale attempt to rebuild the enormous momentum behind anti-socialist protests that fizzled under his leadership.

Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have taken to the streets regularly since dictator Nicolás Maduro, who still runs the country in practice, took power in 2013. At the height of his popularity, Guaidó organized a protest attracting nearly one million people last year.

Guaidó since used his political leverage to organize highly unpopular negotiations with Maduro while the socioeconomic situation in Venezuela has further deteriorated, leading to an almost total loss of support from the Venezuelan people. A survey published in July found that nearly 80 percent of Venezuelans want U.S. President Donald Trump to stop supporting Guaidó.

Guaidó has now called Venezuelans to return to the streets, but not in his name. His plan for a rally, scheduled for Thursday, to thank health workers treating coronavirus patients in the country. The announcement of a new street mobilization followed what Guaidó called a “unity pact” with 37 political parties to refuse to participate in legislative elections run by the Maduro regime, scheduled to take place in December. The federal legislature, the National Assembly, is the last country-wide institution run by democratically elected officials; Maduro has orchestrated at least five fraudulent elections since seizing power.

Guaidó, whose former political party Popular Will is a full member of the Socialist International, is coupling the protest with calls for giving health workers bonus payments in gratitude. Guaidó controls several major international bank accounts holding Venezuelan public money in Western countries that recognize him as president.

“To achieve an exit from dictatorship: unity, pressure, and strategy,” Guaidó wrote, listing among the unitary pact tactics increased financial support to health workers.

The seven provisions of the “unitary pact” are: the payment of bonuses to health workers, further cooperation with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to fight drug crime; getting foreign states to designate Venezuela’s armed forces a terrorist organization; unspecified “guarantees” for a democratic transition; getting political parties not to vote in the December election; a national referendum on new elections; and the rally for health workers.

Measures against the Venezuelan Armed Forces are a response to its current violation of the Venezuelan constitution as an entity by recognizing Maduro as their leader. Venezuela’s Armed Forces have refused to recognize Guaidó as the nation’s commander-in-chief despite his constitutional ascent to the position in January 2019. They continue to serve Maduro despite his legal term at the helm of the country expiring following the fraudulent May 2018 election.

Multiple reports throughout the past decade have accused the armed forces as a unit of participating in narcotics trafficking. Senior Maduro figure Diosdado Cabello, considered the nation’s most powerful military man, has repeatedly surfaced in reports as the potential head of the Cartel of the Suns, a cocaine trafficking outfit run by Venezuelan soldiers, who wear sun pins on their lapels. Cabello has lost lawsuits against media outlets who noted his alleged connections to the syndicate.

Guaidó announced that 37 political parties had already agreed to the pact and urged more to join. “We should all row the boat in only one direction,” he wrote on Twitter.

The call from Guaidó to boycott Maduro’s legislative election contradicts statements the president made as recently as two weeks ago. While he urged Venezuelans to boycott the elections in July, by the end of August, Guaidó was openly pressuring other opposition political parties to join him in fielding candidates for the election. In response, María Corina Machado, the head of the center-right Vente Venezuela party, published a video vocally rejecting Guaidó’s pressure to partake in the elections and urging Venezuelans to boycott.

Guaidó appears to have come around to Machado’s thinking after long-irrelevant “opposition” personality, Henrique Capriles Radonski, resurrected his political career in a nationwide call for opposition members to join Maduro’s election push. Capriles ran two failed presidential campaigns in 2012 and 2013 — against both Maduro and late dictator Hugo Chávez — as part of the center-left Justice First party.

Capriles also announced last week that he had engaged in unspecified negotiations with Islamist Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s adminstration, one of Maduro’s closest international supporters. As Capriles is currently unemployed, it is not clear what legal authority he invoked to hold those meetings.

Justice First is among the political parties that signed Guaidó’s pact not to participate in Maduro’s elections, as well as COPEI, one of Venezuela’s oldest parties, and the Progressive Movement of Venezuela. Also on the list are the three Venezuelan parties that belong to the Socialist International: Guaidó’s former Popular Will, Democratic Action, and A New Era.

Notably absent from the list is Vente Venezuela, one of the country’s most popular center-right parties.

Capriles has formed a rival coalition dubbed “The Force of Change” and debuted it on Tuesday, but the idea of participating in Maduro’s elections is so unpopular that Capriles insisted the election slates did not necessarily mean his coalition would partake.

“The spaces were filled … they are not definitive,” Capriles insisted. “What we have done is avoid being left out, but they are not candidates because we will not present candidates until our conditions are met [by Maduro].”

A third coalition of “opposition” parties — those that have the Maduro regime’s blessing — has vowed to participate in the elections. Dubbed the “Democratic Alliance,” this list includes the Maduro-imposed leaders of some of the parties that signed Guaidó’s pact. Maduro allies in the nation’s Supreme Court ordered the socialist takeover of Justice First and Democratic Action in July, and Maduro coopted COPEI in 2015, so the Maduro-led leadership of those parties has joined the “Democratic Alliance” and the legitimate leadership has joined Guaidó.

Notably, neither parallel Justice First leadership is supporting former member Capriles.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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