CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó faces an internal test of his authority in a key vote Sunday as he campaigns to oust President Nicolás Maduro and end Venezuela's economic and humanitarian crisis.
The opposition-controlled National Assembly will decide whether to keep Guaidó as its leader for a second year. Guaidó will also come under pressure to articulate a fresh vision for removing Maduro — something he has not been able to accomplish.
“The big question for this year is whether Guaidó will be able to use his waning political strength to guide his coalition through such a rocky period," said Geoff Ramsey, a researcher at the Washington Office on Latin America research center. "Opposition unity is already fraying at the edges, and the armed forces appear less likely than ever to abandon Maduro.”
Guaidó declared presidential powers over Venezuela on Jan. 23, 2019, saying Maduro's reelection was illegitimate because the most popular opposition parties and political leaders had been disqualified from running. The U.S. and more than 50 other nations declared Maduro's leadership invalid and endorsed Guaidó.
Venezuela sits atop vast oil and mineral resources, but it has been imploding economically and socially in recent years. Critics blame the plunge on years of failed socialist rule and corruption, while Maduro's allies say U.S. sanctions are taking a toll on the economy. The South American nation's 30 million people suffer soaring inflation and shortages of gasoline, running water and electricity, among basic services.
An estimated 4.5 million Venezuelans have abandoned their nation in an exodus rivaling war-torn Syria.
Maduro, who took over after the 2013 death of former President Hugo Chávez, says Guaidó is a puppet of the United States. Maduro also says he's determined to win control of the National Assembly in elections later this year.
“Despite perversions of the imperialist United States against Venezuela during 2019, we’ve managed to hold onto our independence, peace and stability,” Maduro tweeted. “I know that in 2020, with all of our efforts we will enjoy more economic prosperity.”
The two men remain locked in a power struggle. However, Maduro maintains military backing and control over most branches of the government, despite the deepening crisis and hard-hitting financial sanctions from the United States.
Guaidó says he’s confident he will maintain his seat as head of the congress and press ahead with the campaign to oust Maduro.
Weeks ahead of the vote deciding Guaidó's leadership, the opposition-dominated congress changed its rules, allowing lawmakers who have fled Venezuela for fear of persecution by Maduro’s government to debate and vote from a distance. U.S. officials recently brought several key opposition leaders to Washington to discuss strategies for rallying around Guaidó.
Ramsey said this is an important moment for Venezuela’s opposition.
“Guaidó will have to not only re-energize his base and convince them to stay engaged, but keep his coalition in line as well,” he said. “And the clock is ticking.”