On Tuesday, the Venezuelan Supreme Court suspended the leadership of the opposition party Primero Justicia and ruled that a government lawmaker should be held accountable. On Monday, the same happened with the second largest opposition party, Acción Democrática. Both decisions were based on complaints from expelled party members.
One week earlier, the country’s Supreme Court had appointed the new members of the Electoral Council, a body of five officials in charge of organizing the elections. Of the new judges, two have previously served as judges in the same Supreme Court and one is a former socialist lawmaker under US sanctions since 2017.
The court, which has traditionally backed the president, ruled that the Venezuelan constitution states that the National Assembly – which is controlled by the opposition – must elect members of the Electoral Council. The decision was part of a way in which the Supreme Court refused to recognize the legitimacy of the assembly.
Welcoming the decisions on Tuesday, Maduro said: “We will change what we need to change in the National Assembly. With a lot of strength and a lot of faith, our action will be great.”
The Supreme Court’s hasty successive decisions suggest that the balance is tilting in Venezuela and that Manduro is confident enough to establish his rule, while the opposition has been effectively silenced by the coroner.
Until at least March 2020, Venezuela lived through a kind of institutional axis: on the one hand it was Manduro, who ruled the country since 2013 and who is accused of rigging elections after the election and turning his presidency into a dictatorship. . On the other hand was Juan Guaidó, the leader of the National Assembly, whom the United States and dozens of other countries recognize as the legitimate interim president as long as Manduro remains in power.
Guido did not have any authority in Caracas, but he did have the support of the international community, such as when he was invited as a guest to President Trump’s address to the Union State in February.
Coronaeus changed all that: Suddenly the political and institutional conflicts were removed and Maduro claimed to be responsible for the fight against the pandemic.
It has banned traffic, received medical treatment from China and began appearing on television with details of the measures and announcing new cases and deaths almost every day.
With a population locked up to prevent the spread of viruses, the opposition could no longer organize street demonstrations or even gather in person at the National Assembly.
“It is very clear that Manduro took advantage of the pandemic,” Geoff Ramsey, a Venezuelan expert at the Washington Office for Latin America, told CNN. “If at any time in the last two years he has appeared weak or not responsible, he is compensating now.”
To date, Venezuela has recorded less than 3,500 cases of coronavirus virus and only 28 deaths, although experts doubt the reliability of those numbers, as the country’s health system is in disarray and has limited ability to perform Covid-19 tests.
Luisa Ortega Diaz, a former attorney general, turned her back on Maduro’s enemy, she told CNN she could not believe the success story the government had written. “It makes me sick that Maduro claims to be this anti-Covid paladin when he’s not interested in people’s well-being.”
Ortega, however, acknowledged that Manduro had used the pandemic to bolster his rule.
Maduro’s big leap forward
Maduro’s latest moves have not gone unnoticed. On Monday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the new Electoral Council as “illegal” and said the proposal “takes Venezuela out of the democratic transition”.
Similar criticism came from the European Union and the Lima Group, which brings together several Latin American countries that do not recognize Maduro.
But in addition to condemning the latest push by the Venezuelan leader, it seems that the international community can do little to bring about change in Venezuela at the moment.
Manduro and some of his closest officials have been subject to immediate sanctions in the United States since 2017, following an oil embargo in 2019. He has survived several attempts to overthrow him and almost all negotiations aimed at mediating a peaceful solution. Despite all this, he is still standing.
In addition, Latin America has become the focal point of the pandemic, and most of its governments are more concerned with fighting the virus than finding a solution to the political stalemate in Venezuela.
“The pandemic was like the perfect opportunity for Maduro,” said Margarita Lope Maya, a Venezuelan historian at Caracas Central University.
His decision to take charge of the army in response to the corona boosted his social control, he said.  In March, the Venezuelan army deployed to impose strict social measures across the country, while soldiers recently staffed gas stations to supply fuel.
“In Venezuela, we have an expression – moving forward,” said Lopez Maya. “Obviously, the government thought it was the right time to make a big leap forward to be ahead of the future.”
The future remains unclear in a country as volatile as Venezuela.
One of the five new members of the Electoral Council, Rafael Simón Jiménez, told CNN that he sees himself as Maduro’s opponent and that the opposition should see his appointment as a step forward in fair elections.
Genesis is part of a large opposition group of “chavista dissidents”: politicians who collaborated with Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, before falling out with the governor. Like former AG Ortega Diaz, Jimenez is not an ally of Maduro, nor is he automatically a member of the opposition led by Guaido.
So far, Guaidó has said he does not recognize the Supreme Court’s decision and will not run in the election, which is being held by the new Electoral Council.
However, opposition leaders appointed by a court ruling this week could decide to run in the election, further dissolving the opposition between groups that recognize Guaido’s leadership and groups that do not.
Ramsey, the analyst, still finds some hope for a peaceful solution in Venezuela.
The international community in particular, he said, still sees the negotiation between Maduro and the opposition as the best possible outcome, and while condemning the new Electoral Council, it seems open to the possibility that Maduro himself will participate in the next round of elections.
Maduro’s departure has long been seen as a precondition for any meaningful negotiations in Venezuela, but if the opposition abandons this demand, the government could persuade it to start substantial negotiations to ease sanctions, Ramsey said.
Pompeo’s statement on Monday cited five “key areas” as necessary for free and fair elections. None of them concerned Maduro’s role, leaving the door open for possible participation. “The window is small, fading, but the door is not completely closed,” Ramsey said.
López Maya on the other hand has a more pessimistic outcome in mind. “I do not see the logic behind the government’s push,” he said. “Even stealing the election and winning the National Assembly, what are they doing? What’s next? More conflicts and divisions and the Venezuelans are tired of it.”