Why Guaidó’s role in Venezuela’s National Assembly matters

In Venezuela, the National Assembly is the only democratic institution left. Juan Guaidó is its president. He also serves as the interim president of the country. Here’s how one role led to the other:

What is the National Assembly?

Formed as part of Venezuela’s 1999 Constitution, the National Assembly is composed of deputies elected to five-year terms by “universal, direct, personal, and secret” ballot.

In the first legislative election after adoption of the constitution, in 2000, the party of then-president Hugo Chavez, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), gained an overwhelming majority of seats. But over the next decade, the balance of power in the National Assembly gradually shifted toward opposition lawmakers.

How has Maduro undermined the National Assembly?

After the death of Chavez in 2013, Nicolás Maduro was narrowly elected president and increased intimidation and repression.

In March 2017 Maduro’s hand-picked Supreme Court stripped the National Assembly of its legislative powers, prompting the first of many nationwide demonstrations as well as international condemnation.

In August 2017 Maduro convened his own “constituent assembly,” allegedly to draft a new constitution. Instead the body made unilateral rulings superseding the democratically elected National Assembly and consolidating Maduro’s control.

But the National Assembly continued to defend the rule of law and oppose Maduro.

How did Guaidó become interim president?

Maduro called for a presidential election in May 2018, but Venezuela’s opposition was either unwilling or unable to participate. In December 2018, Guaidó assumed the rotating presidency of the National Assembly as part of a five-year opposition pact.

Under Article 350 of the Venezuelan constitution — which states that the people “shall disown any regime, legislation or authority that violates democratic values, principles and guarantees, or encroaches upon human rights” — the National Assembly declared Maduro’s 2018 election “illegitimate.” The Organization of American States, the United States, the European Union and the 14-nation Lima Group endorsed the National Assembly’s declaration.

Juan Guaido walking in the center of a throng of people (© Juan Carlos Hernandez/AP Images)
Juan Guaidó, center, in Caracas, Venezuela, in February. The National Assembly declared him interim president of Venezuela in January. (© Juan Carlos Hernandez/AP Images)

In January 2019 the National Assembly invoked Article 233 — which specifies that “when an elected President becomes permanently unavailable to serve … the President of the National Assembly shall take charge of the Presidency of the Republic” — and affirmed Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president.

What is Venezuela’s future?

Guaidó, in taking the oath of office, promised to hold national elections and to restore democracy to Venezuela. Since then, 58 nations across the globe have recognized him as interim president.

In a speech to hemispheric leaders in May 2019, Vice President Pence declared, “We believe that Venezuela will one day again be free, that democracy will be restored. And once democracy is restored, the United States and the world community will not let a free Venezuela fail.”

This article was written by freelance writer Philip Terzian. A version of this story was published on May 22, 2019.