Andres Oppenheimer

Juan Guaidó is the most courageous political figure that Latin America has seen in years

Guaidó calls for mass demonstrations in Venezuela

Interim president Juan Guaidó called for nationwide demonstrations on March 4, 2019 to coincide with his planned return to Venezuela, in a challenge expected to escalate his power struggle with Nicolás Maduro.
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Interim president Juan Guaidó called for nationwide demonstrations on March 4, 2019 to coincide with his planned return to Venezuela, in a challenge expected to escalate his power struggle with Nicolás Maduro.

Venezuela’s National Assembly President Juan Guaidó, who is recognized by the United States and more than 50 countries as his country’s interim president, may be a lousy public speaker and an accidental leader. But he’s the most courageous and inspiring political figure to have emerged in Latin America in years.

Guaidó, 35, risked being detained, tortured and perhaps even killed when he returned to Venezuela on Monday.

He had left secretly for Colombia more than a week ago, defying a ruling by the Venezuelan regime that prohibited him from leaving the country, to head an international humanitarian aid delivery effort. But the Feb. 23 aid delivery effort was violently blocked by Nicolás Maduro’s dictatorship at the Colombia-Venezuela border.

Many of us who interviewed Guaidó recently and follow Venezuela’s crisis closely worried that his trip to Colombia was a risky gamble.

If he were not able to return, he would have lost much of his clout: A president in exile is not the same as one fighting the fight at home. It would have been the end of Venezuela’s current pro-democracy movement, perhaps for generations.

And for a few days last week, there were serious questions as to whether Guaidó would be able to return. Well-placed diplomatic sources told me that the people who had helped Guaidó cross border checkpoints to enter Colombia were “no longer available” for his return to his homeland.

In other words, the Venezuelan army or national guard officers who had facilitated Guaidó’s crossing had either defected — more than 500 Venezuelan armed forces and national guard troops reportedly defected to Colombia over the past week — or were too scared to allow him back into the country a week later.

U.S. and Latin American diplomats told me before Guaidó’s return to Venezuela that they were worried about his personal safety. When I asked them why Guaidó couldn’t sneak into Venezuela undetected through the porous border, they told me that there were many Venezuelan army roadblocks on all roads leading to Caracas, and he could be easily detained at any of them.

Worse, he would be easily detected if he traveled in a caravan, and it would have been hard to protect him if he traveled in one car, without many escorts.

What if he was detained and shot on a deserted road in the middle of nowhere? Maduro would have concocted a false narrative that there had been a firefight, and nobody would have been there to witness it, they said.

Guaidó, therefore, decided that his best bet was to return by air on a commercial flight from Panama.

Over the past week, he met with the presidents of Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Ecuador, as well as with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. He asked them to issue strong warnings of an escalation of sanctions against Maduro if he were detained in Venezuela. And they did.

On Monday, the ambassadors of Spain, Germany and several other countries waited for Guaidó at the Caracas international airport in Maiquietía to be witnesses to whatever happened. Minutes after Guaidó’s flight arrived, he tweeted, “I’m already in our beloved country!.”

His next tweet minutes later announced that he was on his way to Caracas, where he had previously convened a mass demonstration. Diplomats from several countries escorted him into the city.

Maduro either failed to get the military’s support to arrest Guaidó or thought that the political cost of capturing him while the whole world was watching would be too high.

Before his return, Guaidó was already much more popular than Maduro. A poll by the Datanálisis polling firm showed that if an election had been held in Febrary, Guaidó would have beaten Maduro 77 percent to 23 percent. Most likely, Guaidó’s popularity will skyrocket even more after his bold return to Venezuela.

Granted, the Maduro regime now will try to smear him. Following the Cuban script, they will try character assassination, because they know that fighting his ideas is a lost cause.

I doubt they will succeed: Actions speak louder than words, and Guaidó’s return has shown that he has guts. People will not forget that.

Don’t miss the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show Sundays at 8 pm on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera

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