On Sunday, December 6, Venezuela held widely-questioned elections for the National Assembly, allowing the Maduro government to consolidate its power over the country’s legislature, the sole remaining democratically-elected institution in the country. While the mainstream opposition led by Juan Guaidó promoted a boycott of the elections due to the lack of free and fair electoral conditions, the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and allied parties won 67% of votes and 91% of seats in the new National Assembly, which will take office on January 5, 2021.

The legislative elections were marked by widespread irregularities, most notably due to recent actions by the Maduro-aligned Supreme Court (TSJ) to effectively hand over leadership of 3 of the country’s 4 main opposition parties to figures perceived as loyal to the regime, and the fact that the National Electoral Council (CNE) was named in June by the TSJ to oversee the elections—despite constitutional requirements that this body be chosen by the legislature to ensure independence. The election on December 6 saw historically low levels of turnout, at 30.5% compared to 74% in the last legislative elections in 2015. This extremely modest turnout is demonstrative of growing disillusionment and distrust of political institutions and actors, including those within Guaidó’s opposition who have failed to bring change to the country since January 2019.

In October, the European Union offered to send an EU electoral mission to monitor the National Assembly elections as long as the elections were postponed in order to allow for a free, fair, and transparent electoral process. When the government refused to delay the elections, the EU announced it could not send observers. Following the elections on December 6, the United States, EU, and 49 other countries swiftly issued statements vowing not to recognize the results. The Guaidó-led opposition has widely referred to the legislative elections as a ‘fraud,’ and is holding a consulta popular, or referendum, from December 7 to 12 in an attempt to claim broader legitimacy in order to defend the notion that the current National Assembly should remain in power past the expiration of its constitutional mandate on January 5.

Amid the fallout from the December 6 elections, many around the world are asking the same questions: What will happen to Guaidó and the rest of the opposition when they no longer control the National Assembly? Will the Guaidó-led opposition soon be considered a government in exile?

The answers to these questions will ultimately be determined by how the Maduro government acts in the coming weeks, and after the current National Assembly loses its constitutional mandate on January 5. Maduro’s takeover of the legislature is undeniably a setback for the political opposition, and calls into question the future of Juan Guaidó both within Venezuela and on the diplomatic stage.

Unfortunately, all signs seem to point to a very bleak outlook for the opposition within Venezuela, as Nicolás Maduro is expected to ramp up political persecution and repression of political dissidents in the coming months. Less than two weeks before the December 6 elections, Venezuelan security forces raided the offices of Alimenta la Solidaridad, a Venezuelan NGO that provides food to an estimated 25,000 children in the country, as well as the home of its founder, Roberto Patiño, who is a member of the Primero Justicia opposition party. In the same week, a group of previously detained U.S. oil executives known as the ‘Citgo 6’ were convicted to lengthy prison sentences in what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later described as a ‘kangaroo court.’

Political persecution such as that faced by Alimenta la Solidaridad is not new to Venezuela—however, the timing of this raid and the subsequent sentencing of the Citgo 6 ahead of the legislative elections may suggest that Maduro feels increasingly secure in his position and plans to expand repression on political opponents. Now that the Maduro government has effectively consolidated control over the last remaining democratically-elected institution in the country, further crackdowns on protests, political dissidents, civil society, and members of the political opposition are anticipated.

Given this reality, it is possible that opposition leaders still within Venezuela will be targeted, persecuted, and potentially forced into exile in the coming months. However, it is important to emphasize that, at this point, most of the individuals that make up Guaidó’s government have effectively been in exile for several years. Out of Juan Guaidó’s ‘Centro de Gobierno,’ or cabinet, 12 have been in exile since before the cabinet was even formed in August 2019. Today, only three individuals on this list—Juan Guaidó himself, Commissioner for Human Rights Humberto Prado, and Commissioner for Humanitarian Assistance Manuela Bolivar remain in Venezuela. (Note: this refers only to the “Centro de Gobierno.” There are several other opposition politicians and National Assembly deputies close to Guaidó that remain active within Venezuela.)

The prospect of an opposition government in exile may be bolstered by the departure of Leopoldo López, a central figure in Guaidó’s coalition, who fled the Spanish Ambassador’s residence to reunite with his family in Spain in October. While López assured the public that his departure was voluntary and that he would continue to advocate for the opposition on the international stage, it raises questions about where power will rest within opposition circles in the future. Known as Guaidó’s mentor, López has had an outsized role in decision making in recent years. The Wall Street Journal reported, for instance, that López himself was deeply involved in the opposition’s conversations with several private mercenary groups in late 2019.   

Ahead of the December 6 elections, Reuters reported that the Venezuelan opposition coalition is reevaluating its international presence and is negotiating the scaling-back of the interim government’s diplomatic corps abroad. This is a notable departure from previous opposition strategy, which emphasized its efforts primarily on garnering international support for the Guaidó coalition, and indicates an acknowledgement of the need to adopt a change in strategy. 

This emphasis on international support has been a fatal flaw of the opposition’s strategy; while it has allowed Guaidó to build an international diplomatic apparatus parallel to that of the Maduro government, critics such as Venezuelan academic Michael Penfold argue that this hyper-focus on international diplomacy has served to distance the opposition from the struggles of everyday Venezuelans who are still not having their most basic needs met on the ground. This may be one reason why Guaidó has lost considerable support and relevance within the country over the past year, with his approval rating falling from 61 percent in February 2019 to 27 percent in September, according to leading local pollster Datanalisis.

Recent criticism of the opposition has focused on an apparent disconnect between social media-savvy leadership and the day-to-day challenges faced by the population. In the event that the remaining members of Guaidó’s government are further persecuted by security forces and/or forced into exile in the coming months, this may serve to deepen such allegations.

Most of Guaidó’s ‘Center of Government’ is in Exile



In exile?

Juan Guaidó

Interim President


Humberto Prado

Commissioner for Human Rights and Attention to Victims


Manuela Bolívar

Commissioner for Humanitarian Assistance


Leopoldo López

Head of Cabinet

Yes (Spain)

Julio Borges

Commissioner for Foreign Affairs

Yes (Colombia)

Alejandro Plaz

Commissioner for Economic Development

Yes (United States)

Miguel Pizarro

Commissioner for the UN

Yes (United States)

Leopoldo Castillo

President of the Commission for the Reorganization of Telesur

Yes (United States)

Larissa Patiño

Coordinator of the Commission for the Reorganization of Telesur

Yes (United States)

José Manuel Olivares

Commissioner for Emergency and Migrant Health

Yes (Colombia)

Javier Troconis

Commissioner for Assets Recovery

Yes (United States)

Juan Andrés Mejía

President of Plan País Commission

Yes (Argentina)

José Guerra

Vice President of Plan País Commission

Yes (United States)

Iván Somonovis

Special Commissioner for Security and Intelligence

Yes (United States)

Alberto Federico Ravell

Director of National Communication Center

Yes (United States and Spain)

Enrique Sánchez Falcón

Special Prosecutor

Yes (Colombia)