CARACAS, Dec 22 (Reuters) – Venezuela’s political opposition to the ruling Socialists voted by a wide margin to remove the interim government led by Juan Guaido, as they seek a united front ahead of presidential elections tentatively scheduled for 2024.
The motion was backed by three of four major opposition groups but rejected by Guaido’s Popular Will and must pass through another consultation scheduled next week before it is finalized.
The other three major parties – Justice First, Democratic Action and A New Era – have for weeks been drafting a plan to create a board of directors to manage Venezuela’s assets held abroad, especially U.S.-based refiner and fuel retailer Citgo, as a way to dislodge Guaido.
Acting as congress chief and interim president following Nicolas Maduro’s disputed re-election as president in May 2018, Guaido in 2019 appointed the board of Citgo, a subsidiary of state oil firm PDVSA.
While mostly powerless at home where Maduro’s government exercises control over nearly all institutions, including security forces, Guaido’s interim government has supervised the foreign assets and runs many embassies.
Thursday’s opposition motion passed in a virtual Zoom session with 72 votes in favor, 23 against and nine abstentions.
If approved next week, opposition lawmakers will then choose five representatives for the board of directors that will head assets held abroad, and Guaido’s interim presidency, along with his government, will be removed.
Central to the debate is Citgo and the government’s most important foreign asset.
A majority stake in the company was used as collateral for a bond on which PDVSA defaulted, but is being protected from creditors by a U.S. license that expires in January. Opposition groups hope this will be renewed.
Venezuela owes more than $60 billion to creditors for defaulted bonds and company nationalizations carried out under then-president Hugo Chavez.
Some U.S. courts have granted creditors permission to negotiate the sale of Venezuelan assets, but many remain protected by the U.S. government.
Guaido has been the face of Venezuela’s opposition abroad since he declared himself interim president in 2019. But due mostly to the opposition’s failure to remove Maduro from power, Guaido has fallen from favor.
Talks between the opposition and Maduro’s government hosted by Mexico ended earlier this month with no further negotiations scheduled. At a late November meeting in the Mexican capital, both sides signed a deal to create a United Nations-run fund to combat the country’s humanitarian crisis.