Venezuela

In Venezuela, Guaidó’s family says ‘Juan will lead us to freedom’

How was Juan Guaidó as a kid? His family talks about it

The family of Juan Guaidó, interim president of Venezuela, talks about his younger days. His mother and brothers are confident he will lead the country to freedom.
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The family of Juan Guaidó, interim president of Venezuela, talks about his younger days. His mother and brothers are confident he will lead the country to freedom.

As a little boy, Juan Guaidó hated the time after his bath. That was when his grandmother would spread anti-itch cream on him to soothe a rash.

“When you become the president, you won’t let me do it,” his grandmother would tell him. “But now, you have no choice.”

Since Jan. 23, this story has taken on almost mythical proportions within his family. On that day, Guaidó, 35, declared himself the legitimate president of Venezuela, directly challenging the administration of Nicolás Maduro.

Guaidó’s bold move has filled his family with pride, but also stirred concerns and anxieties.

“On the 23rd, I was like ugh! All anxious and nervous but now I am at ease because I see him relaxed — relatively relaxed, because he is leading the country,” says Guaidó’s 54-year-old mother, Norka Márquez.

Guaidó now carries the weight of enormous expectations projected onto him by his supporters and by his family.

His two younger brothers, Jesús and Simón, believe he can lead the way to restoring normalcy in their country. They are in awe as they witness their brother’s meteoric political ascent.

Both say they aspire to be like him. Yet, neither is shy about listing their brother’s imperfections. “He is a messy person, not punctual, and he grumbles a lot when we don’t follow through on whatever we are supposed to do,” says 21-year-old Jesús.

Márquez and her sons paint an intimate picture of Venezuela’s interim president, who shot to political stardom seemingly from nowhere. He started in big politics just eight years ago, she notes.

Family members describe Guaidó as a man with an analytical mind and a rigorous drive to resolve problems, a trait that can be traced back to his early years, says his mother.

“The first book he wanted to read was a dictionary,” she says, recalling that at just 9 years old he wanted to understand the exact meaning of each and every word — believing it would serve him well in future conversations to avoid any misunderstanding.

That sense of discipline might explain his coolness bordering on aloofness. “He is very serious, dry, not really affectionate, but whenever he meets me, he bends down to kiss my cheek,” Márquez said.

These personality traits feed into the frequent comparisons of him to former U.S. President Barack Obama. Guaidó, just like Obama at the start of his presidency, is now enjoying overwhelming popularity.

For so many Venezuelans, Guaidó is the only hope now to deliver them from the Maduro administration — considered a dictatorship by many — that has led to a dramatic economic collapse and the loss of life due to hunger and lack of basic medicine.

“Guaidó’s popularity shows the deep level of desperation the opposition supporters felt,” said Alonso Moleiro, a well-respected political analyst and columnist who is based in Caracas.

He believes that Maduro’s opponents needed a personality to attach their hopes to after their previous revolts in 2014 and 2017 were crushed.

“Back in December, a post-chavismo transition was but a hypothesis. Now it has a name — Juan Guaidó,” the columnist said, referring to the political ideology put forth by the late leader Hugo Chávez that remains in effect under the Maduro regime.

Luis Vicente Leon, director of the polling organization Datanalisis, also based in Caracas, calls the Guaidó phenomenon “the outsider effect.”

According to Leon, the opposition leaders before Guaidó had nationwide support of around 25 percent, slightly above Maduro’s approval rating.

“The opposition leadership didn’t make good on their objective. Many people worked hard, sacrificed themselves but to no avail. Maduro was still in power,” Leon said.

Guaidó, he continues, appeared on the political stage with fresh ideas, emanating youthful energy, and had no political baggage. All of this resonated with the opposition supporters, Leon said.

These days, Guaidó is being greeted by rapturous crowds wherever he goes. People fall over each other to at least get a glimpse of him, many reaching out to touch him.

“Guaidomania” is in full swing. There is an anecdote circulating on the Caracas streets about a virtual pill that cures the symptoms of depression and headache. The pill contains three life-boosting vitamins: the end of Maduro’s presidency, a transitional government, and free elections. These are the three goals Guaidó has pledged to achieve.

Still, Guaidó’s loved ones worry that eventually the goodwill he has generated among millions of Venezuelans might start to recede.

Simón, 19, the youngest of Márquez’s four boys, is concerned.

“I am afraid that when Juan stumbles, some people might criticize him and turn their backs on him. This regime won’t go away like that,” he said snapping his fingers.

“We need to hang in there for some time,” he said. “I know who my brother is. I trust him completely.”

Recently, Simón wanted to flee the country and follow in the footsteps of the more than thee million of his countrymen who have done so since 2015 when the economic crisis hit Venezuela with full force. It was Guaidó who urged him to stay, pleading with Simón to “give Venezuela a chance,” and he took his older brother’s advice.

Guaidó’s family believes that their country has reached the tipping point — the moment that is likely the last chance to save Venezuela from a long-term dictatorship.

“If this Guaidó revolt fails, Venezuela could descend into complete chaos. The government would probably crack down on dissent and impose more restrictions on the society,” said Moleiro, the analyst. He describes Guaidó as an honest, modest and precise decision-making politician.

Meanwhile, the ever-present danger of Guaidó ending up in jail, or even dead, is never far from his supporters’ thoughts.

During the 2017 summer street revolt when Guaidó was just an unknown lawmaker, the Maduro security forces broke his arm and hit him with buckshots.

“I thought I would die that day. I felt so scared and cried later at night,” said Márquez. Then she recalled all of the other mothers who had lost children amid clashes with the Bolivarian National Guard that summer, “and I thought if they can go on, I can also.”

Guaidó’s mother knows her son is in great danger, especially now that he has become the face of this latest revolt against Maduro.

“They could kill him, or arrest him, but it never passes through my head that something like this could really happen. I always stay positive,” she said.

At this moment, the euphoria the whole family feels about Guaidó’s rise to leadership is overcoming any dark thoughts.

“Juan is the right leader with a good point of view,” Jesús said.

However, some of Guaidó’s fellow politicians strike a cautious tone.

“Venezuelans are used to worshiping special leaders in times of crisis like this one. I know it is part of our culture but I think it is a risky game,” warns opposition lawmaker Juan Andres Mejia, who represents the Voluntad Popular party, of which Guaidó is also a member.

Mejia believes that to gain freedom, Venezuelans need to unite in great numbers to achieve the change. “Juan is no Messiah. Every Venezuelan needs to play his part in this story,” he said.

The story is still unfolding, and Márquez is obviously enjoying these days, saying that God has given her a second chance after many trials and tribulations.

She and her family survived the so-called Vargas tragedy of December 1999, when torrential flooding caused a mudslide that killed up to 30,000 people in her home state of Vargas. Among the victims were dozens of people Márquez knew — friends and neighbors.

Then she went through a divorce from Guaidó’s father, who now lives in Spain. And, many years later, she was diagnosed with colon cancer and had to undergo seven difficult operations, the last one just four months ago. Márquez was fighting for her life in a country with a severely damaged medical system, and she managed to prevail somehow.

Now, her oldest son has become a household name, achieving global fame in his quest to lead their country back to freedom and democracy, she said. “We are doing fine,” she concludes.

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