President Juan Guaidó, the legal head of state of Venezuela, delivered a “General Assembly” address to the United Nations Wednesday despite not being invited to attend the global event, broadcast simultaneously to the official address to the U.N. from Venezuela by socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro.
The United Nations still recognizes Maduro as the head of state of Venezuela despite his legal term as president ending in January 2019. At that time, the National Assembly, the federal legislature, used its constitutional powers to replace Maduro with the then-president of the Assembly, Guaidó, who remains interim president with a mandate to organize free and fair elections. Most of the nations of the free world recognize Guaidó as president, despite the fact that he wields very little actual power, as Maduro has refused to vacate the presidential palace and continues to command the loyalty of the Venezuelan Armed Forces.
This is the second year that the General Assembly invites Maduro, and not Guaidó, to its general debate. Maduro did not attend the general debate last year, sending instead his then-Vice President Delcy Rodríguez (Rodríguez is currently Maduro’s economic minister). At the time, as the General Assembly events occurred in New York, Guaidó sent a delegation of diplomats to the event, despite not being invited.
This year, in response to the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, the United Nations is holding the high-level General Assembly meeting virtually, broadcasting speeches from heads of state speaking in their home countries. Maduro spoke late Wednesday.
While Maduro spoke, Guaidó livestreamed his own remarks on his social media accounts. On Youtube, Guaidó’s team branded his remarks, “Address by President Juan Guaidó to the 75th U.N. General Assembly.”
“Today, I ask the representatives of the member states [of the United Nations] to assume the responsibility of assisting the legitimate government of Venezuela in its mission to protect the Venezuelan people and consider a strategy that will contemplate scenarios after the exhaustion of the democratic path,” Guaidó told his virtual audience. “The moment has come from opportune and decisive action.”
Guaidó did not specify which “strategy” or what kind of “decisive action” he wished to see from allied states. The “democratic path” the president referred to was likely Maduro’s scheduled legislative elections to take place in December, which Maduro has no constitutional power to organize. In anticipation of the elections, Maduro replaced the officials on the National Electoral Commission (CNE), the official agency that ensures election integrity, with loyalists to his United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). Maduro has presided over at least five fraudulent elections during his tenure, the most recent in May 2018.
“I also request that the secretary-general of the United Nations mobilize the political will of the member states to effectively restore sovereignty to Venezuela and be able to protect civilians from the atrocities of a criminal regime,” Guaidó’s statement continued. “Honorable Mr. [António] Guterres, as you well acknowledged in 2018 … ‘the fundamental principles [of the U.N.] mean little if they are not applied when they are most needed.’ Today, in Venezuela, they are most needed.”
Here, again, Guaidó did not specify what he sought from Guterres. As head of the U.N., the secretary-general has the power to request peacekeeping operations, though the decision to send peacekeeping troops to a country ultimately lies with the Security Council. Two of Maduro’s closest allies, the left-wing regimes of Russia and China, are permanent members of the Security Council, with veto power over proposed operations.
The only specific action Guaidó requested of the United Nations member states was to read a U.N. report on evidence suggesting the Maduro regime has committed crimes against humanity. Following the reading, Guaidó said, “it is in your hands to consider how to proceed with fellow governments to denounce Nicolás Maduro before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity against the civilian population of Venezuela.”
Maduro’s regime is a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Guaidó’s speech did not clarify his position on two major issues the Venezuelan opposition is currently fielding: whether or not to participate in Maduro’s election, and whether or not to support a foreign military operation to remove Maduro. Guaidó has issued contradictory statements regarding the former issue, repeatedly stating he would not help legitimize a sham election, but then attempting to pressure other opposition leaders into partaking.
In August, Guaidó met with conservative party leader María Corina Machado and, according to her, attempted to urge her to register candidates under her Vente Venezuela party for Maduro’s legislative election. Machado refused, issuing a public statement condemning Guaidó for failing to support the use of international treaties to demand international aid in removing Maduro.
In contrast to Guaidó, Machado has proposed using the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR) to remove Maduro. The TIAR requires that member states offer military aid to the legitimate government of a member requesting aid in fighting terrorism, gang violence, or sedition. As Maduro’s regime is notoriously affiliated with cocaine trafficking operations and jihadist groups like Hezbollah, foreign military aid would fall under the provisions of the TIAR, Machado has argued.