Andres Oppenheimer

Venezuela’s acting president wisely puts free elections at the top of his to-do list

Guaidó declares himself interim president of Venezuela

The president of Venezuela's National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, declared himself as the interim president on Jan. 23, 2019, before thousands of cheering supporters.
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The president of Venezuela's National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, declared himself as the interim president on Jan. 23, 2019, before thousands of cheering supporters.

Venezuela’s National Assembly president Juan Guaidó, who was recognized by President Trump and key Latin American and European countries as Venezuela’s acting president on Wednesday, told me Monday that his first priorities after proclaiming himself president would be to call for early elections and international humanitarian aid for his country.

During an extended telephone interview from an undisclosed location, Guaidó, 35, also told me that he was not spending much time worrying about whether he would be arrested for declaring dictator Nicolás Maduro a “usurper” of the presidency and being sworn in by the opposition-controlled National Assembly as legitimate president.

“These are the risks of being a politician in today’s Venezuela. But it’s worth the sacrifice if it helps to once again live in democracy and freedom,” Guaidó said. Asked whether he would seek refuge at a foreign embassy in Caracas and run an alternate government from there, he replied, “No, not at all.”

The United States, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Peru and most European and Latin American democracies — except Mexico — recognize the National Assembly as the only democratic institution left in Venezuela. It was elected in 2015, the last time the country held quasi-free elections. The opposition won by a landslide.

Under Article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution, the president of the National Assembly can be sworn in as a caretaker president with the task of calling free elections when the country’s presidency is vacant. The National Assembly declared the presidency vacant on Jan. 10, when Maduro started a new six-year term claiming he had won May 2018 elections that actually were stolen by his regime.

In the interview, Guaidó said one of his first priorities would be to seek humanitarian aid from friendly countries. Even though that would be hard to achieve without the armed forces on his side, Guaidó — barring his arrest by the Maduro regime — could ask the United States and other countries to send tons of food and medicine to the Colombian and Brazilian borders.

That could put Maduro in a politically uncomfortable position. Until now, Maduro has rejected opposition requests for foreign humanitarian aid. He has claimed that there is no need for it.

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