Venezuela’s congress on Tuesday unanimously approved rejoining a hemispheric mutual defense agreement that some hope will open the doors for a military solution to the deep political crisis that has two men claiming to be the country’s sole leader.
The approval of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance — which Venezuela had pulled out of in 2012 — is seen as the latest attempt by interim President Juan Guaidó to recapture momentum in his effort to oust Nicolás Maduro.
During an open-air meeting of the opposition-controlled congress Tuesday, Guaidó — the man the U.S. and more than 50 other nations consider the country’s president — called on legislators to approve the treaty, known by its Spanish acronym TIAR.
Hard-liners in the opposition have suggested that the TIAR could allow a military invasion to oust Maduro, let Guaidó form a transitional government and make way for new elections.
But Guaidó, 35, tried to tamp down expectations, saying the move was not about “relying on third parties.”
“TIAR is not magic. It’s not a button we can push and everything will be resolved by tomorrow,” he said. “This is not a solution that allows us to go home now. It requires us to exercise, with even more force, the majority that we are.”
Most Venezuelans were likely unaware that Guaidó was speaking or that the TIAR had been adopted, as large swaths of the country remained without electricity.
The government has blamed the massive power outage, which began late Monday, on an “electromagnetic attack,” but the country has been beset by failing power lines and rolling blackouts.
Guaidó’s announcement comes six months after he declared that it was his constitutional duty to assume the presidency. Since then, he’s received broad international backing and can still command respectable crowds on the street, but he’s failed to seize real power.
Maduro, on the other hand, is more isolated than ever and is unpopular but counts on the backing of the military and other branches of government.
The TIAR mutual defense agreement was created in 1947, as the United States was trying to limit European influence in the Americas. It was invoked in the 1950s and 1960s, including to support the U.S. naval blockade during the Cuban missile crisis.
In 2012, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia — all in the hands of leftist leaders at the time — withdrew from the pact.
Maduro claims that elections last year — decried as fraudulent by many — give him the right rule through 2025. And he says Guaidó is trying to illegally seize power with the help of the United States and others in the region.
“We’re a country that has fought for more than two centuries against colonialism, slavery, racism and all forms of imperial aggression,” Maduro wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. “We will never bow down to aggressions. We will overcome all obstacles and reach prosperity.”
Venezuela is caught in an unprecedented economic crisis, with hyperinflation and food and medicine shortages. And more than 5 million people have fled the country in recent years.
Guaidó burst on the scene in January promising to end the “dictatorship” and call for new elections, but has struggled. And analysts warn that his movement is losing steam.
On Tuesday, Guaidó implored his countrymen to keep the faith and keep fighting.
“The time has come for every Venezuelan to assume their role in this story,” he told the chanting crowd. “I tell you, we are going to win, carajo! Long live a free Venezuela!”