Despite setbacks, Venezuelan opposition leader praises record

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó delivered a quasi-state of the nation speech on Friday, offering broad-based multimillion-dollar accounts under his control and taking credit for social programs targeting people in the troubled South American country. good come.

Guaidó said the parallel government he founded three years ago has spent at least $130 million, of which about $70 million went to social programs, including aid for oncology and other health treatments. Presenting a balance sheet, his speech seemed to double as a campaign speech by a candidate seeking a new opportunity from disappointed voters and attacking an opponent.

“Today the first thing I have to say, what I say on this balance sheet, is that we owe a debt to the Venezuelans, and I have to say even to the region, in this fight for democracy,” Guaidó told those present in a conference room. in Caracas, with diplomats from Germany, France and the Netherlands, among others.

The event was set up as an exercise in democracy that contrasted with the secrecy enveloping the government of President Nicolás Maduro, which had promised to overthrow Guaidó with the help of allies, but failed to do so. The conference room where the event took place was decorated with magnified photos of him walking into the White House with former US President Donald Trump and having conversations with French President Emmanuel Macron, Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau and former United States High Commissioner for Human Rights. the United Nations Michelle Bachelet.

Guaidó, 39, proclaimed himself Venezuela’s interim president in January 2019, arguing that the constitution allowed him in his capacity as then president of the country’s National Assembly to form a transitional government because Maduro was in a mock vote in late 2018 re-elected. Dozens of countries, including the US, Canada and Colombia, supported Guaidó’s move and began to recognize him as Venezuela’s legitimate leader.

Under Trump, the US stepped up economic sanctions against Venezuela and granted Guaidó the power to take over the Maduro government’s bank accounts at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or other US-insured banks.

An account with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York held $342 million from a payout seized by the US government from a 2015 gold-for-loan deal that Maduro defaulted with the Bank of England. .

Guaidó said his government has spent about $60.2 million in 2020 and about $70 million in 2021. The funds come from a budget of about $242 million approved for disbursement by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control. Ministry of Finance.

About $19 million went to about 61,000 health workers who received three $100 payments at the height of the pandemic, when the country’s monthly minimum wage, which many earned, was about $2.

In 2020, about $8.5 million was spent by the parallel congress. That number dropped to about $7.4 million the following year.

While explaining the budget and spending, he also warned Venezuela’s creditors, telling them that their lobbying efforts aimed at lifting US economic sanctions is not the right way to recoup their money.

“A message to the creditors to whom Venezuela is indebted today: Look, there aren’t that many assets in Venezuela to pay all those debts. That is the truth. At the current rate of production, it would take years,” said Guaidó. “The best way to return to a healthy renegotiation with Venezuela, with legal certainty… is democracy in Venezuela again.”

Guaidó said the parallel government has faced more than 200 legal disputes between lawsuits and arbitration, with $41 billion at stake.

Many of the images accompanying his presentation showed streets full of people he once managed to entice to protest against Maduro. But support for Guaidó has declined significantly.

The speech came Friday as he continues to promote the use of primaries to determine which opposition candidate will run against Maduro in the 2024 presidential election. Some within the opposition had called for greater transparency from the parallel government .

“He needs to show that his approach to fund management is different from the corruption and corruption that is so common in the Maduro government,” said Geoff Ramsey, director of Venezuela’s investigations at the US-based Washington Office on the Latin American government. American think tank. “The most important aspect of this speech is the fact that Guaido is now open about the fact that the Venezuelan opposition has adjusted its strategy to reflect the reality that Maduro will remain in power.”

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