CARACAS: Venezuelan opposition parties are seeking to remove Juan Guaido as head of Citgo, the country’s most important asset abroad, and block his interim government from extending its mandate by another year, spokesmen from the country’s main opposition parties said on Wednesday.
Guaido has controlled the Houston-based fuel refiner, a subsidiary of state oil firm PVDSA, since 2019 when he declared himself acting president following a disputed election.
While Washington still recognises Guaido as interim leader instead of socialist president Nicolas Maduro, Guaido’s failure to reach a deal with Maduro’s administration on new elections and his reliance on US sanctions to keep pressure on Maduro have seen him fall out of favour elsewhere in the world and with opposition groups at home.
Guaido has called for a special session of Venezuela’s Congress to take place on Thursday in order to extend the mandate of his interim government by another year, largely to maintain control over Citgo and other state assets held abroad.
However, opposition political parties propose instead to replace Guaido with a commission of five parliament-appointed members to govern Citgo’s assets, and block the one-year extension.
The proposal put forward is for dissolution of the interim government, save for the ad hoc board of PDVSA Holding – which manages Citgo – as well as the ad hoc board of the central bank, while a commission to watch over other assets would also be created, said opposition politician Alfonso Marquina.
Parties looking to replace Guaido have proposed delegating the functions of the interim government to the new commission.
They may also seek to choose a candidate to compete against Maduro or whoever represents the government in the next election, tentatively scheduled for 2024.
“The US recognises the sovereign decisions that are made in Venezuela, so we have no doubt that the relationship (with Washington) will be maintained,” Marquina said at a news conference in Caracas.
Three of Venezuela’s largest opposition parties support the motion, Marquina said, while the fourth – which Guaido belongs to – supports the interim government.
At least 160 deputies of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly must attend the meeting and the motion will pass if a majority supports it, Marquina said, adding that at least 69 legislators have pledged their support so far.
Guaido’s approval rating has fallen to around 17%, according to surveys in October, far from the more than 60% he enjoyed after declaring himself president.
The once-wealthy South American Opec member owes more than US$60 billion to creditors for nationalisations of companies a decade ago under then-president Hugo Chavez and defaulted bonds.
Among them is a PDVSA 2020 bond, on which the company had put a majority stake in Citgo as collateral. Its assets are protected by a US license expiring in January, which the opposition groups hope will be extended.
While many assets are protected by the US government, some creditors have won lawsuits to sell Venezuelan assets abroad.
Guaido’s failure to extend his leadership may spell trouble for the boards controlling those assets, whose legitimacy rests on the recognition of Guaido as Venezuela’s interim leader.
The government of President Nicolas Maduro has presided over economic catastrophe and the mass exodus of over 7 million Venezuelans since 2015.
However, the opposition remains fractured and has been unable to dislodge Maduro, who retains the support of the armed forces and allies including Russia and China.