Facing twin threats of severe economic sanctions and military intervention from the United States, the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has so far struggled to articulate a response to the opposition movement's bid for power. But now, the Maduro government is indicating that it is feeling more confident about cracking down on the opposition by taking the first steps to detain its leader, Juan Guaido. Such a move would force the United States to decide how to keep its push for regime change in Venezuela alive.
Venezuela’s Supreme Court on April 1 reportedly called on the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) to strip Juan Guaido of the parliamentary immunity he's been granted as the head of the National Assembly. Per the Venezuelan Constitution, the process of removing parliamentary immunity can be done only by the legislature. However, President Nicolas Maduro's government does not recognize the opposition-controlled National Assembly and has instead handed over its legislative powers to the ANC, a ruling pro-Maduro body established in 2017.
Why It Matters
Stripping Guaido of his legal immunity would signal that the Venezuelan government is moving to justify the opposition leader's eventual arrest. Such an arrest would likely fuel larger demonstrations across the country in the short-term. It also has the potential to accelerate any plans among dissident military members to overthrow Maduro's government — that is, if such plots even exist.
The United States, meanwhile, would likely initially respond to Guaido's arrest by placing even heavier sanctions on Venezuela’s energy sector, though whether Guaido's arrest would prompt Washington to seriously prepare for military intervention is less certain. The United States has previously cast Guaido’s arrest as a red line that the Maduro government must not cross. And with Maduro now threatening to cross that line, Washington will be left to reconsider whether to increase its efforts toward regime change in Venezuela.
Those counting on an opposition-led overhaul of Venezuela's energy sector should plan for Maduro’s government to endure — potentially for years.
However, in the long term, Guaido's detention could seriously threaten the opposition and U.S. efforts to unseat Maduro by making other opposition figures wary of pushing for regime change through protests out of fear that they, too, could suffer their leader's fate.
In addition, it's unlikely that Maduro would begin taking steps to arrest Guaido if he did not feel confident about his government's ability to do so without losing his crucial military support. So far, the president has wavered in his attempts at detaining his challenger, fearing that it could spur military intervention from the United States. But Maduro’s government has successfully kept high-ranking military commanders on its side, even in the face of severe U.S. economic sanctions.
With apparent unity among the top officials, there is a good chance Maduro's government is signaling that it is prepared to crack down on its opponents, which (if successful) could temporarily deflect threats to the president and delay any political transition. Foreign energy companies counting on an opposition-led overhaul of the energy sector in the near future should, therefore, plan for Maduro’s government to endure — potentially for several more years.
Guaido emerged in January as the most serious opposition challenger to Venezuela's ruling United Socialist Party in years. For more than two months, Guaido has led a resurgent opposition movement intent on unseating Maduro.