Juan Guaido swept to international renown in 2019 during a euphoric anti-government protest when he declared Venezuela’s president an illegitimate leader and himself the interim leader.
It was a major and bold move backed by the United States and dozens of other nations and the most serious threat to President Nicolas Maduro’s government.
But on Thursday, with Maduro still firmly in place, it seemed Guaido’s mandate might be nearing its end.
In a vote held by the opposition legislature that exists parallel to Maduro’s government, Guaido’s own colleagues voted overwhelmingly to end his interim government.
The decision is not final: A second session scheduled for Dec 29 will have to confirm it, although analysts believe the initial vote will likely stand.
But it was the clearest sign yet that most of the Venezuelan opposition believes that Guaido cannot achieve their stated goal, Maduro’s ouster and the restoration of democracy, and that they must pursue a different strategy.
It was also a blow to the United States, which threw its support steadfastly behind Guaido and continues to call him the country’s interim president, even as other nations have backed away from that recognition.
A representative of the US Embassy to Venezuela did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A total of 72 representatives voted Thursday to eliminate the interim government, while 24 voted to keep it and nine voted to abstain.
In a message to the public, the three opposition political parties supporting the end of the interim government said that the “political process” that began four years ago with the recognition of Guaido as president “is not perceived as an option for real political change.”
The strategy in place under Guaido “has not reached the expected liberation objectives and the country demands new paths that lead us toward democracy,” the message continued.
In 2019, Guaido, a student activist turned legislator, took the helm of the country’s legislature, then the last major institution in the country controlled by the opposition.
Amid large-scale protests against the Maduro government, he invoked an article of the constitution that transfers power to the head of the National Assembly if the presidency becomes vacant.
A 2018 election won by Maduro had already been declared a sham by the United States, the European Union, the Organisation of American States and others, and Guaido used that to claim that the president’s mandate was illegitimate.
Guaido had an outpouring of support from Venezuelans, the diplomatic recognition of around 60 countries and staunch US backing, and was able to temporarily unite the country’s fractured opposition. For a moment, a nation crushed by repression and economic collapse saw hope.
Since then, the opposition has succeeded in getting Maduro to agree to a political dialogue in Mexico, which is set to continue next month after being stalled for more than a year.
As a part of those talks, Maduro has agreed to allow some Venezuelan funds frozen abroad to be used as humanitarian aid to help alleviate hunger and other travails faced by the country.
While this is regarded as a concession, the opposition is still far from its ultimate goal: Maduro’s removal. Opposition leaders are pushing him toward allowing free and fair conditions for a presidential election that is already scheduled in 2024.