When National Assembly President Juan Guaidó claimed a mandate as interim president in January 2019, dozens of countries moved to recognize him as Venezuela’s legitimate head of state, based on the widely-documented flaws and irregularities in the 2018 presidential election of Nicolas Maduro. As support for Guaidó grew domestically and internationally, some believed that a transition in Venezuela under Guaidó’s leadership was imminent.
Now, eighteen months later, the political landscape in Venezuela is dramatically different. The opposition led by Juan Guaidó has seen internal divisions, and has failed multiple times to incite a military uprising. Maduro, meanwhile, has capitalized on the COVID-19 pandemic to assume control over key opposition parties and appears more firmly in place than ever before. With most of the opposition now opting to abstain from participating in upcoming December legislative elections that will lack credible democratic conditions, it seems likely that the opposition will soon lose effective control of the National Assembly, the only remaining democratic institution in the country.
In the near certain event that the opposition loses its majority in the National Assembly in December, Juan Guaidó will face questions regarding his constitutional mandate to serve as Interim President. The current National Assembly was elected for a five-year term that will end on January 5, 2021. The United States has expressed willingness to continue to recognize Juan Guaidó as Interim President past January 5, citing the notion of “administrative continuity,” which some constitutional scholars have questioned. However, it is unclear how the other 56 countries that currently recognize Guaidó will proceed.
In this context, it is valuable to take a step back to assess where the international community currently stands on Juan Guaidó, and what international diplomacy with his coalition truly looks like. These dynamics have important implications for the future of Guaidó’s international support, and for how the international community will act following January 5. We have prepared the following interactive map to demonstrate the extent of Guaidó’s diplomatic relations abroad.*
In their communications in support of Juan Guaidó, State Department officials often claim that “60 some countries” support and recognize the presidency of Juan Guaidó. While approximately 57 countries including the United States have recognized Guaidó as legitimate head of state since January 2019, the reality of how this recognition is put into practice varies widely. Only in very few cases have countries followed the U.S. line of establishing formal diplomatic relations with the Guaidó government and closing off all channels of communication with the de facto Maduro government.
Relations with Only Guaidó
In fact, only 11 out of the 57 countries that recognize Guaidó (Bolivia, Brazil, U.S., Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Paraguay) have fully ended diplomatic relations with the Maduro government in favor of embracing Guaidó’s diplomats. In most cases, this has entailed closing embassies in Venezuela, expelling Maduro diplomats from the country, and formally accrediting the Guaidó diplomat as ambassador. Even for some of these countries, though, this process has been difficult to enforce in practice, leaving Guaidó representatives in a sort of diplomatic limbo.
For example, while Guatemala has formally recognized Guaidó’s ambassador to the country, Maria Teresa Romero, she still does not have access to the Venezuelan embassy in Guatemala as it is currently closed, and is based out of Miami. And in Brazil, the efforts of Guaidó’s diplomats to actually take control of the Venezuelan embassy has been marked by protests, defiance from diplomats posted by Maduro, and judicial obstacles. Though Brazil declared all Maduro diplomats personae non grata in September, Maduro representatives still occupy the embassy in Brasilia, while Guaidó’s ambassador to Brazil, Maria Teresa Belandría, works out of temporary facilities. On the other hand, Israel has not had a Venezuelan embassy since Hugo Chávez ended relations with Israel in solidarity with Palestine—meaning that Guaidó’s ambassador to Israel, Pynchas Brener, does not have a physical embassy, is recognized only as a “special representative,” and has yet to relocate to Jerusalem.
Relations with Both
The situation that is most common among the countries that have recognized Guaidó is to have open diplomatic relations with both the Guaidó and Maduro governments, meaning that they host the diplomatic representations of both governments and maintain open channels with both governments’ diplomats. 30 out of the 57 countries that recognize Juan Guaidó as Interim President fit into this category: Albania, Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Luxembourg, Malta, Morocco, Netherlands, Panama, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
In most of these cases, Maduro diplomats still control the embassy and are the main Venezuelan diplomatic representation in that country, while the Guaidó representatives operate through more informal channels. Most EU countries fit into this category, as well as many countries in Latin America that maintain some level of diplomatic and/or consular relations with the Maduro government to continue cooperation on regional issues such as the repatriation of Venezuelan migrants. This means that most of Guaidó’s diplomats abroad have little authority to actually influence diplomacy with Venezuela, and operate out of informal parallel embassies while Maduro diplomats maintain control over the official Venezuelan embassy.
This is the situation, for instance, in the U.K., where the government has recognized Guaidó’s representative, Vanessa Neumann, as “official representative,” but the Maduro diplomat, Rocio del Valle Maneiro, is still the accredited ambassador from Venezuela and maintains full control over the Venezuelan embassy in London. In fact, out of the 38 countries for which Guaidó and the National Assembly have designated ambassadors, only 10 have formally recognized the Guaidó representative as ambassador.
Some countries within this category have taken a different approach, formally recognizing and accrediting Guaidó’s diplomatic representatives, but maintaining Maduro’s representatives in-country for consular purposes. This is the case in Ecuador, where Guaidó’s ambassador, Hector Quintero, has been accredited as ambassador and now controls the Venezuelan embassy in Quito, while Maduro’s former Ambassador, Pedro Sassone Garcia, continues consular functions in the country.
For most of Guaidó’s diplomats abroad, the situation has been made even more difficult by the fact that until at least April 2020 they did not receive a salary. As such many Guaidó ambassadors have separate jobs, and support themselves financially while carrying out diplomatic activities. In fact, some of Guaidó’s ambassadors, such as Guarequena Gutierrez to Chile, have resigned from their posts citing bureaucratic and financial challenges in-country.
Relations with Only Maduro
Out of the 57 countries that have recognized Juan Guaidó as Interim President, several have yet to actually establish any formal diplomatic relations with the Guaidó government, meaning that they still maintain full diplomatic relations with the Maduro government in practice. This is the case for Finland, Haiti, Iceland, Japan, and South Korea. This is in part because the opposition-led National Assembly has yet to designate a Guaidó ambassador to these countries, meaning that diplomatic relations with the Guaidó coalition have yet to be formalized. Therefore, in the aforementioned countries, the only diplomatic mission from Venezuela to that country is led by the Maduro government, and the Venezuelan embassy is under the undisputed control of Maduro representatives.
It is worth noting that most countries throughout the world still maintain full relations with the Maduro government. While 57 countries have recognized Juan Guaidó since January 2019, many countries in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia have quietly continued normal relations with Maduro diplomats in spite of the political crisis. This is also the case for major world democracies such as Mexico and India, neither of which have recognized Guaidó as rightful president of Venezuela.
Relations with Neither
11 out of the 57 countries that recognize Guaidó do not actually have formal diplomatic relations with the Venezuelan government, and have not received a diplomatic mission from either the Maduro or Guaidó governments. In practice, while these 11 countries recognize the Guaidó presidency, this recognition carries little diplomatic weight. This is the case for many microstates and small Eastern European countries, and includes the Bahamas, the Czech Republic, El Salvador, Estonia, Georgia, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Ukraine.
In the case of El Salvador, the recently-elected Bukele government recognized the Guaidó government and closed the Salvadoran embassy in Caracas in November 2019, and later expressed its willingness to formally recognize a Guaidó-designated ambassador to El Salvador. However, at this moment diplomatic relations between El Salvador and Venezuela are closed, as Guaidó has yet to designate an ambassador to the country. It is likely that this may change in the coming months as the Bukele administration attempts to renormalize relations.
A particularly interesting case is that of Kosovo, which was quick to follow the U.S. in recognizing Juan Guaidó as interim president in January 2019. However, the Venezuelan government did not recognize Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008 and Maduro has continued to not recognize Kosovo as an independent state—meaning that this recognition of Guaidó is primarily symbolic.
Since January 2019, the opposition under Juan Guaidó has built a broad diplomatic apparatus, having sent new diplomatic representatives to 38 of the 57 countries that initially recognized Guaidó as interim president. The fact that 57 countries, many of them EU countries and key U.S. allies, have formally recognized Juan Guaidó over the de facto President Nicolás Maduro, is an impressive feat.
That being said, U.S. claims of broad and unconditional international support for Juan Guaidó do not hold water. While the United States emphasizes that there is a robust international coalition behind Guaidó, the reality is that few countries have put their support behind Guaidó to the extent that the U.S. has. Rather, as this analysis shows, most countries that have recognized Guaidó maintain open channels with the Maduro government. It is also significant that the Joint Declaration of Support for Democratic Change in Venezuela published in August 2020 was signed by 29 countries including the United States—a far cry from the 57 that put their support behind Guaidó in January 2019. This may be a sign that cracks are showing in the international coalition.
It is important to note that, while 57 countries currently recognize Juan Guaidó as Interim President, this number is subject to political and diplomatic changes abroad. Since Guaidó was elected as National Assembly President in January 2019, four countries in Latin America—Argentina, Bolivia, Guatemala, and El Salvador—have seen shifts in leadership. While the latter three all moved to recognize Guaidó, Argentina’s new President Alberto Fernández moved in the opposite direction, revoking the diplomatic credentials of the Guaidó ambassador. Similarly, elections over the next few months in Bolivia and Chile may very well lead to a change in those countries’ recognition of the opposition government. So while 57 countries currently recognize Guaidó, it should not be assumed that this recognition is permanent, as the situations in these countries are ever-changing and are subject to domestic electoral and/or political changes.
*For the purpose of this graphic, we have divided all countries of the world into four main categories: Relations with only Maduro, Relations with only Guaidó, Relations with Both, and Relations with Neither. Countries that have formally recognized Juan Guaidó as Interim President of Venezuela are marked by dark blue borders. For the purpose of this graphic and post, ‘Relations’ refers to diplomatic relations; i.e. the formal recognition and accreditation by one country of another’s diplomatic missions.
Author’s note: I would like to thank Jordi Amaral, WOLA’s Venezuela Program intern, for his assistance in conducting this research.