It has been three weeks since the U.S. recognized Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president. But questions linger as Nicolás Maduro maintains power and his hold on the country’s military. While Guaidó works to keep momentum in his favor at home, Carlos Vecchio, his appointed chargé d’affaires in the U.S., works to consolidate support for the interim government from Washington and the wider international community.
Vecchio, 49, helped found Guaidó’s Popular Will party alongside Leopoldo López, and moved to the U.S. in 2014 after the Maduro regime issued an order for his arrest. He spoke to AQ on Feb. 12 in New York about what comes next for the interim government, including their timeline for elections, their message for Mexico and Uruguay, and whether there is a Plan B if the military doesn’t recognize Guaidó.
This conversation has been translated from Spanish and has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
AQ: You came to the U.S. almost five years ago after you became a target of Maduro. How have you seen the conversation in the U.S. surrounding the Venezuelan crisis change?
Vecchio: Wow, a lot. When I arrived in 2014 saying that Maduro was a dictator and that Venezuela was going through a profound crisis, I wasn’t believed. But eventually the economic and social collapse and the refugee crisis showed we were right: Venezuela had become a dictatorship. We have seen an evolution in the conversation (in the U.S.) and on both the Republicans’ and the Democrats’ sides. Solving the crisis has become a bipartisan issue.
AQ: Venezuela owes an estimated $65 billion to bondholders. But you’ve also made clear that the Guaidó government’s top priority is to restore democracy, end the suffering of the Venezuelan people and get aid into the country. What is your message at this moment to creditors in the U.S. and elsewhere?
Vecchio: The message to the bondholders is very clear: The only way they can get the payment they’re owed is if there is a change of government. If Maduro continues in power, they will never be paid. And I think that our vision – to restore democracy, to have an open, healthy economy, including our oil sector, to allow private investment – is the only way that can generate opportunities for all. And they will be in a better position in the future if we can do that. I would say to bondholders: We know that this debt exists. We have to renegotiate it in a friendly way, taking into account that 87 percent of our population lives in poverty and our main objective is to generate revenue that can pull them from poverty.
AQ: Many Latin American countries have come out in recognition of the Guaidó government. Meanwhile others, notably Mexico and Uruguay, have instead called for dialogue. What is your message for them?
Vecchio: I think we have to start with the constitution, which says that when there is no constitutional president – which was the case because Maduro committed fraud in last year’s elections – it falls to the president of the National Assembly (to take office in the interim). We are starting from a point where Juan Guaidó is the president and from there we start the process of holding free and transparent elections. Let’s start there. We are not going to participate in a false dialogue. Maduro has called for dialogue in the past, which he uses to manipulate the international community to alleviate pressure and stay in power. After each dialogue every year since 2014 there have been more political prisoners and the economic crisis increases. So we are going to push forward our belief that the only thing that is up for negotiation is the date when Maduro leaves and that is it.
AQ: Everyone is waiting to see whether the military will make a move in support of the Guaidó government. If they don’t, is there a Plan B?
Vecchio: I think the pressure that we are creating, in the National Assembly and on the streets, is going to eventually force a negotiation that facilitates a peaceful transition. I believe that is the bet. I think at the end of the day the military will support this process of change because it is unavoidable. It is irreversible. Even if, suppose, the military didn’t want it, I think circumstances are going to change and are going to force that process. So at the end of the day it is going to come through. They can extend agony but they will never be able to stop change.
AQ: In the event that Maduro leaves power, what is the scope of the international aid that you think will be required?
Vecchio: I think the magnitude of the crisis will require a kind of Marshall Plan for Venezuela where the international community together with multilateral organizations are going to have to help with financial support to jumpstart economic recovery. The World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund and large countries such as the United States will play an important role, understanding that at the end of the day this is going to benefit not only Venezuelans but the entire region. It’s going to take a tremendous effort. And we will need these actors to collaborate to ensure that the elections we want to carry out are transparent and clean elections and happen in the short term, with the OAS and the EU playing a role as observers.
AQ: Do you have a timeline for elections?
Vecchio: First we have to end the dictatorship. Without doing that, we can’t move forward. Our timeline for elections will also depend on what international organizations tell us, but the sooner the better. We first need to examine our electoral system, replace the electoral authorities, who are all in Maduro’s pocket, and make sure the electoral registry is reliable. We need to register all the Venezuelans that have left the country
AQ: Doesn’t the constitution call for elections within 30 days of an interim president taking the helm?
Vecchio: Yes, but the clause you are referring to requires a scenario of constitutional normality, which does not exist in Venezuela. So first one has to recover the democratic system in Venezuela and take full government control and establish the transition government and create the conditions to have an election with transparency guaranteed. If we don’t dismantle what Maduro has created we are never going to have transparent elections so that will require an adjustment on our side. Instead we need to restore normalcy to be able to put that mechanism into place. If we were in a normal situation there would be a way of doing so but when you have to dismantle the whole electoral power, dismantle the system, create new registries, etc., there is no way one can do it. That is why the support of the international community is key at that stage. What we can do is announce the date of the election before those 30 days, and then do it as soon as possible.
O’Boyle is a senior editor at AQ. Follow him on Twitter @BrenOBoyle.