Skip to main content
Access every election story that matters
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Access every election story that matters
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Locals hold a flag while Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido takes part in a gathering with supporters in Caracas, on Sept. 14, 2019.

IVAN ALVARADO/Reuters

When a Venezuelan political party asked union leader Henry Arias to run for congress on a platform opposing President Nicolas Maduro, Mr. Arias quickly responded that the party in question didn’t actually represent the opposition – and turned them down.

Weeks earlier, Venezuela’s supreme court had put the main opposition parties in the hands of politicians who had been expelled from those parties on accusations of corrupt dealings with Mr. Maduro’s government.

These politicians, who are widely accused of being Mr. Maduro’s shadow allies, are now scrambling to find candidates to run in December’s congressional election, according to opposition leaders and activists.

Story continues below advertisement

“I wouldn’t run even if they put in the money,” Mr. Arias said in a telephone interview, saying the court-appointed party leaders are seeking to help Mr. Maduro legitimize an election that the opposition is expected to broadly boycott.

“That would be betraying my family and myself,” said Mr. Arias, who declined to identify the political party that called him.

Union leaders, student activists and party militants in the provinces have been receiving similar phone calls from the newly installed leaders of political parties First Justice, Democratic Action and Popular Will, according to the interviews.

The effort signals that Mr. Maduro is concerned that a boycott will undermine an election that will already be complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The vote is expected to allow the Socialist Party to take back control of congress, the only major governmental institution outside its control.

That would change the situation of opposition leader and congress chief Juan Guaido. Last year, he was recognized by more than 50 countries as Venezuela’s rightful president after assuming an interim presidency in 2019 on the grounds that Mr. Maduro’s 2018 re-election was fraudulent.

Mr. Maduro calls Mr. Guaido a U.S.-backed puppet seeking to oust him in a violent coup, and has accused Mr. Guaido and his allies of not wanting to participate in the elections because they know they will lose. The court-appointed opposition leaders deny supporting the Socialist Party and say Mr. Maduro’s adversaries backed them after growing weary of the existing opposition leadership.

“I don’t know if there are candidates,” said Jose Brito, appointed by the supreme court to be leader of First Justice after being expelled from the party last year amid influence-peddling accusations that he denies.

Story continues below advertisement

“There will be meetings to determine that.”

PACKING CONGRESS

Mr. Guaido declared the legislative vote illegitimate after the pro-Maduro supreme court named a new directors to the election council even though the constitution specifically grants this power to congress.

The new electoral council then expanded the number of legislators to be elected to the next congress by 66 per cent, adding 110 new legislative seats in what critics called an effort to dilute opposition influence in parliament.

Some of Mr. Maduro’s adversaries have cautiously broached the idea of joining the elections, but insist that they would only do so if the government improved conditions.

The court-appointed opposition leaders also appear to lack the rank-and-file party activists who are crucial to run campaigns and to serve as poll station witnesses.

Engineering student Hector Pinto of the central state of Aragua got a WhatsApp message this month from a person who said they were part of the “new party leadership” of First Justice, asking if Mr. Pinto would recognize the court-appointed leaders.

Story continues below advertisement

“We know they are usurping [the leadership of the party] and I refused to accept this proposal,” Mr. Pinto said in a phone interview. “I know they’ve contacted members of the youth leadership in other states and [the youth leaders] have also refused.”

The traditional leaders of those parties disavow the court ruling, but they appear to remain in limbo. Their legislative terms are set to expire in January, at which point they will no longer have parliamentary immunity.

Mr. Maduro’s shadow allies first rose to prominence in January, when they unexpectedly declared themselves to be the new leaders of congress after troops blocked Mr. Guaido from entering parliament on the day of the annual election of legislative leadership.

Mr. Guaido, who was later re-elected head of congress by a majority of legislators, said the lawmakers had been bribed to do the bidding of the ruling Socialist Party while pretending to be working against Mr. Maduro.

Javier Torres, a union leader, refused a request to run for congress in December from the same group on mistrust of their motives.

“Those parties are trying to recruit candidates among recognized union leaders, but we are not going to serve as tool for the regime,” Mr. Torres said in an interview.

Story continues below advertisement

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies