Guaidó out of focus: what remains of the “president in charge” of Venezuela after two years of attrition

Matias Delacroix / ASSOCIATED PRESS

Juan Guaidó listens to a reporter’s question during a ceremony in Caracas, on December 6, 2020.

Two years ago, the hope of change took over Venezuela at the hand of Juan Guaidó. The streets seemed like a party against Chavismo. Today the confetti is barely left on the ground, trampled on, and the leader of that excited noise is completely blurred.

Guaidó was a man unknown to the world until on January 23, 2019, he became, with unusual courage, the “president in charge” of Venezuela. Using his position at the head of the National Assembly (which for the first time in pro-government times had an opposition majority), and based on article 233 of the Constitution, he announced himself as the country’s leader. The reason: the “power vacuum” of the presidency of Nicolás Maduro.

That young opponent who had barely been showing his bangs for four years, as a grassroots leader and then a deputy, was promoted to a position and a mission that did not correspond to him, because there were many other dissidents ahead, with more years of fighting and experience. But their exile and jail put him first on the list. He stepped into a crowd in Caracas, and was soon backed by more than 50 countries, including the United States, the European Union, and most Latin American nations.

Was your promotion an illusion? No. When it seemed that Maduro’s “dictatorship” was more reeling from economic instability, social protests, mass emigration and the undermining of opponents, Guaidó saw himself as president of the Chamber and took advantage of it. It showed itself as a real alternative, backed by an institution, something the dissidents had not had in years. Soon he was embraced by citizens and by external powers. And with his pressure and contacts, he achieved movements regarding the entry of humanitarian aid into the country. There was some basis.

Emboldened, in April 2019, he even tried to raise the army against Maduro, in the so-called Operation Freedom. After the effervescence of the first hours, it was seen that the barracks, bases and command panels were massively with the Chavista president. Guaidó had to admit that he miscalculated his forces.

Everything has turned against him: the difficulty of advancing in a country in which the other institutions (not only the political, but also the judicial ones) are in the hands of the ruling party, the lack of strength of international initiatives to help him in his three-phase plan (cessation of the “usurpation”, transitional government and free elections), the neglect of allies such as the United States in a tough year of elections, the mobility and action problems derived from the coronavirus and the division of the Venezuelan opposition itself they have weakened it.

He has never been a parallel president, no matter how hard the media try to explain what “in charge” was. He has not been able to execute. In a moment of enormous tension, it played an important role as a catalyst, a unifier, but democracy did not return to Venezuela. Its highlight was the parliamentary elections on December 6, when Chavismo regained the National Assembly chaired by Guaidó and in which its strength and legitimacy lay.

“The persecution is going to increase, but it is not going to stop us from continuing to demand our rights,” he said then, after trying to mobilize citizens in alternative protests, in person and online, which had less follow-up than expected. Guaido’s popularity reached 80% in the spring of two years ago. Now, it is 50 points lower, according to Datanalysis.

Those elections were marked by the boycott of the main opposition parties and leaders and by a massive abstention. Going or not going to the convocation has been another huge headache for Guaidó because, although finally the heaviest bloc of the opposition decided not to attend, there were very authoritative voices that asked to do so to fight Chavismo from within -Henrique Capriles asked to sneak in through a “little slit” -, to highlight the democratic gaps of what they call the regime.

The simple dilemma has opened a huge gap between them, parties of all kinds and conditions united only by the desire for a change in the game. Miraflores Palace. There are those who reproach Guaidó that he is stubborn, that he does not allow himself to be helped, that he has not counted on all the opposition branches, and to this is added that there are friends who have physically gone away from him, such as his mentor Leopoldo López, who now resides in Madrid.

The common goal is to hold out with a certain unit at least until mid-2021, when it will be known if the International Criminal Court (ICC) accepts the complaint filed against Maduro by Crimes against humanity. Doing so may be the finishing touch to a well-supported, definitive harassment and takedown process against the president.

The recognition problem

And now Guaidó also faces the limbo of lack of recognition and support. In Washington, you have to see what the new president, Joe Biden, does with this hot potato that Donald Trump brought so much firewood to. The Democrat does not plan to continue with the strategy of his predecessor, who secretly threatened even military support for the opposition leader if he needed it. Rather, his advisers say, he will move away from the Venezuelan crisis to focus on national policies.

It is expected to maintain the already known channels of pressure on Maduro and his family: freeze assets of people related to the Government who participate in supposedly criminal activities and adopt diplomatic and commercial sanctions. He will demand free elections and will verbally support Guaidó. The new US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has confirmed that they will maintain their recognition and will continue to consider Maduro a “brutal dictator”, with whom Biden has “nothing to negotiate.”

The EU, after the constitution of the new Assembly, stopped recognizing Guaidó as president, despite confirming his leadership. 25 of the 27 states that make up the Union continue to say that he is the interim president, but not the institutional bloc as such. Despite this setback, last Thursday the European Parliament asked the EU again that endorses the opponent.

It has also lost the support of Bolivia and Argentina, countries that have changed their presidency, to the left, in the last year.

The future

Guaidó no longer has immunity, upon leaving the presidency of the Assembly, and it is feared that at any moment he will be arrested, his team denounces. Exile, as has happened to so many of his colleagues, is not an option, for now. “The risk is latent, the risk exists every day in Venezuela. In fact, two years ago, they kidnapped me, and that was the second time that I have gone through this, facing the Maduro dictatorship, but the maintenance of internal resistance in the fight against a dictatorship is central “, reminded the BBC.

Despite the obstacles, he has hope. “In 2021, let us strengthen the union of all to achieve the beginning of the cycle of freedom,” he said as a message at the beginning of the year.

The problem is that Venezuela has been waiting for the miracle for two years and, since it does not come, faith is lost.

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