Illustration by: Shadi Ghanim
The new Venezuelan National Assembly was sworn in on Monday, January 4. The United Socialist Party (PSUV) won 256 out of 277 seats in the 2020 parliamentary elections held in December, which were boycotted by the majority of the government opposition. Jorge Rodriguez, a Maduro loyalist, is due to become the next speaker of the National Assembly and has promised to promote “national dialogue” while at the same time declaring that his party “would win” the continued struggle to govern Venezuela.
Juan Guaidó, for his part, has claimed that the old legislative body would carry on legislating, due to widespread distrust of the electoral process among the Venezuelan electorate. Although the U.S and U.K. still recognize Guaidó’s authority, the European Union has announced that it will only recognize Guaidó as a “political and civil society actor striving to bring back democracy to Venezuela.” The announcement stands as yet another blow to the opposition as the Maduro regime closes its grip and the opposition loses the constitutional protection previously afforded to it through control of the National Assembly.
The Venezuelan political chaos has raised additional concerns regarding the opposition’s authority to negotiate foreign policy on behalf of the country. As part of an attempt to find funding and undermine Maduro, the interim government began identifying Venezuelan government foreign assets that could be redirected to opposition coffers. One such example involved a prospective contract that would forgive half of a Paraguayan debt of USD $269 million—incurred from an unpaid oil purchase in 2004—which was allegedly negotiated between top officials in the Venezuelan interim government and the office of President Mario Abdo Benítez of Paraguay.
The deal, which included “large and unusual payments,” caught the attention of U.S. and Venezuelan investigators, who raised concerns about potentially fraudulent activity on behalf of interim government officials. Although President Benítez has recognized Guaidó as the interim president of Venezuela over the two last years, the Paraguayan government denied the accusations of negotiating the oil debt with opposition officials, arguing that the interim government does not exercise political and “territorial control of Venezuela.”