Tomás A. Arias Castillo is a Lawyer. Professor of Public Law and Philosophy of Law at the Central University of Venezuela
For the first time in a long time, a favorable situation has arisen for the cause of freedom and democracy in Venezuela. After twenty years of enduring a brutal socialist dictatorship, directly responsible for the worst destruction of wealth in its two centuries of history as an independent nation, as well as an unprecedented humanitarian and migratory crisis, today there are exceptional conditions to depose the Chavista-Madurist regime, lead a political transition and return to the path of the democratic rule of law.
Believing it was impregnable, Nicolás Maduro's regime did not measure the consequences of its permanent and growing provocation to ignore the National Assembly, elected in December 2015 and made up of an overwhelming majority of opponents. First came the use of the docile and biased judicial system, with the purpose of taking away its budget, competencies and attributions. Then came the convocation, fraudulent election and installation of the National Constituent Assembly. Maduro then had the National Constituent Assembly -without the faculties to do so- advance the presidential elections (fraudulent, once again, and without recognition by the international community) in order to proclaim him dictator for the period 2019-2025. The circle closed on January 10, 2019, when Maduro, in his own opera buffa, was sworn in by his compadres of the Supreme Court of Justice (and not by the National Assembly, which is constitutionally responsible for doing so).
For its part, the National Assembly - the only legitimate power recognized by the international community - began its sessions on January 5, 2019. In its first session of the year, it formed a new Board of Directors, presided over by the young engineer Juan Guaidó, of the Voluntad Popular party (led by Leopoldo López under home arrest) and announced that it would follow a peaceful but clearly defined route towards the ignorance of the usurpation committed by Nicolás Maduro.
After Maduro's invalid oath, we can point out that he began the route of the alluded ignorance of his usurped power, which means a golden opportunity to depose the regime. By the time we write these lines, this route has two characteristics, namely:
- First, it is a process that has been marked by decisive international action, rather than by actions within Venezuelan territory. The declarations of the Secretary of State of the United States of America, the resolution of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (19 votes in favor, 6 against, 8 abstentions and 1 absence), the position of the European Union (whose 28 member states unanimously supported the actions of the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini) are all clear in one sense: Maduro is unknown as president and the call is to initiate a political transition, leading to authentic elections and thus return to democracy.
And, secondly, from the internal perspective of the country, the process has been marked by the constitutional debate, never isolated from the difference of existing positions between the political parties that form part of the opposition amalgam. The high point of this debate is whether or not Juan Guaidó, President of the National Assembly, should also be sworn in as Interim President of the Republic until authentic elections are held. In a sense, parties such as Acción Democrática, Un Nuevo Tiempo, Avanzada Progresista, a part of Primero Justicia and a part of Voluntad Popular, believe that, not having the factual power to interrupt or repel the usurpation made to the Presidency of the Republic, it is preferable that the National Assembly, as a collegiate body, progressively assumes the competencies of the executive branch. Incidentally, they argue, this would not generate implausible expectations in the population. This position has been reflected in the Agreement on the Declaration of Usurpation of the Presidency of the Republic by Nicolás Maduro Moros and the Restoration of the Validity of the Constitution, signed by the National Assembly last January 15, 2019. The alternative position is shared by Vente Venezuela, Alianza Bravo Pueblo, a part of Primero Justicia and a part of Voluntad Popular, according to which Juan Guaidó should be sworn in as Interim President of the Republic, in order to accentuate the lack of legality and legitimacy of Maduro and, in this way, to unleash the facts that will ruin Maduro's usurpation and the extirpation of his discredited regime. Both positions have plausible constitutional arguments, although seeing it from a sensible legal point of view, the constitutions and legal analyses are not made for a situation like this one, with an almost absolute absence of juridicity in the country.
In any case, we insist, the situation is unique and configures a golden opportunity; one that may never happen again. Venezuela is a great country in the Latin American community and we all - starting with its nationals - want to see that once prosperous and thriving country again, with the added learning during these dark years and with a clear lesson: without credible institutions, without the rule of law and effective limits on power, it is impossible to have freedom, democracy and economic growth.