Members of the Bolivarian National Guard of Venezuela (GNB) march during the Venezuela Independence Day military parade in Caracas, Venezuela. (Photographer: Manaure Quintero/Bloomberg)

Maduro Boxed In as Guaido Consolidates Position in Venezuela

(Bloomberg) -- Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido has so far failed to sway the armed forces to his side as he calls for elections that could unseat strongman President Nicolas Maduro. But with every day that Maduro permits Guaido to roam Caracas, holding rallies and building a government in waiting, the Bolivarian revolution’s invincibility seems to decay.

“The more famous he becomes, the more power he amasses inside and outside Venezuela, it becomes harder and harder for Maduro to jail him,” Dmitris Pantoulas, a Caracas political analyst, said Monday. “Now, it’s practically impossible.”

Maduro Boxed In as Guaido Consolidates Position in Venezuela

Supporters in the U.S., Latin America and Europe have hurried to recognize Guaido, the head of the National Assembly, as the nation’s rightful leader, and levied threats of sanctions or even military intervention if Maduro moves against him. Guaido has named aides who could oversee the country’s oil industry and whatever financial resources remain after years of ruinous economic policy. But Maduro has dealt out lucrative industrial franchises to top military officers and Guaido must wrest the rank and file from their command.

Soft Measures

He has called for supporters to fan out Wednesday to distribute copies of a legislative measure that would extend amnesty and forgiveness to members of the armed forces who abandon the socialist regime. The tactic exerts a steady pressure on Maduro, but even as the president allows Guaido himself freedom, he continues to use violence and imprisonment to perpetuate his power.

On Monday, a group of human rights organizations said at a press conference that 35 people have been killed in demonstrations against the president since Jan. 21.

“We have corroborated the number, with name, places and those presumed responsible,” said Rafael Uzcategui, general coordinator of the human-rights group Provea. The coalition, which also includes the Penal Forum and the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict, said that 850 people have been arrested due to the demonstrations, many taken at night from their homes.

Quiet Talks

Still, the question now is about the depth of loyalty among the armed forces, as Guaido taps the deep discontent in a country whose economy has been wrecked by Maduro’s authoritarian brand of socialism. Critics say that Maduro has essentially bought off the military, allowing money laundering, fraud, illegal mining and other crimes.

Guaido told The Washington Post Sunday that he was in behind-the-scenes talks with “government officials, civilian and military men” and he is assembling a coterie of prospective government officials.

Maduro’s top military attache in Washington, Colonel Jose Luis Silva, declared loyalty Saturday to Guaido. One of the consuls in Miami, Scarlet Salazar, followed suit.

Maduro Boxed In as Guaido Consolidates Position in Venezuela

The talks for an essential shadow government are in the earliest phases but several people have been mentioned.

Most prominent is Ricardo Hausmann, a key economic minister in the 1990s who runs the Venezuela Project at Harvard. He is said to be helping Guaido informally and has already drafted a plan to rebuild the nation, from the economy to energy.

Shadow Government

Carlos Vecchio, a political coordinator from Guaido’s Popular Will party, has been named business representative to the U.S. and met on Saturday with Elliott Abrams, the new liaison to Venezuela for Donald Trump’s administration.

Maduro Boxed In as Guaido Consolidates Position in Venezuela

Bond investors have taken note. Venezuela’s benchmark bonds due in 2027 have rallied to their highest since November 2017. Last week, the U.S., Canada and most Latin American governments recognized Guaido as the nation’s leader. The Bank of England denied a request this month by Maduro’s cash-hungry government to pull $1.2 billion of gold out of its vaults.

Critics caution it’s too early to predict any sort of success – Guaido holds no palpable power over Maduro or the nation – but his supporters nonetheless have been working to convince individual soldiers to defect.

Congressman Ismael Leon and other Guaido supporters on Sunday walked up to the gates of the army command building in the Caracas neighborhood of San Bernardino and slipped copies of the amnesty bill through the bars. The group asked the silent group of guards on the other side to “not raise their weapons against those peacefully protesting.”

“They didn’t want to receive us,” Leon said. “But with their eyes they told us they knew why we were doing what we were doing. They understood us.”

A group of four national guards in the neighborhood of La Florida said two people had come up to them in the morning and respectfully described the law to them. The response was less friendly outside of commands in El Paraiso and Petare, Caracas’ biggest slum, where reports on local media show guards burning the copies that were handed to them.

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