In the early morning hours of April 30, 2019, Venezuela’s legitimate President Juan Guaidó gave hope to the country’s beleaguered population by declaring he had gained the backing of the military.
Guaidó, standing alongside then-political prisoner and the head of his socialist political party Leopoldo López, claimed the military had agreed to recognize his legitimacy and remove Nicolás Maduro’s socialist dictatorship from power. The plot never materialized and, one year on from the failed “coup,” Juan Guaidó appears to have less political influence than ever.
With Maduro’s backers – who included Congresswomen Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) –describing Guaidó as a “far-right” stooge handpicked by the Trump administration to lead a military coup against a sovereign government, few people seemed to care about the reality of Guaidó’s political profile.
Guaidó is an unabashed left-wing progressive whose former party, Popular Will, is a formal member of the Socialist International (Guaidó requested to be relieved of his membership of the party this year to focus on his presidency). His plan, as he explained it, was never really to hold the regime accountable for its crimes against humanity, but rather to create a transitional government intent on softening the effectively communist policies of the Maduro regime.
This did not stop his rapid rise in popularity when, as the leader of the National Assembly, lawmakers invoked the Venezuelan constitution and appointed him the country’s legitimate president. Following his appointment, he drew millions of people onto the streets in support, giving people newfound hope that he may be the man who could topple the Maduro regime and begin to alleviate the devastating effects of the ongoing economic and humanitarian crisis they caused.
Massive protests in Caracas and across Venezuela, fighting for their democracy and to rid themselves from the shackles of the former regime. Even the police in Barquisimeto are supporting the protestors. The United States stands with the people of Venezuela! pic.twitter.com/heuRyN72Lj
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) February 2, 2019
Another party that seemed to take little notice of his true nature was the U.S. government. Trump administration officials threw their full backing behind Guaidó and his team. As well as officially recognizing him as president, they began providing financial resources and discussed military support. Guaidó also received the backing of the majority of the world’s democracies, most importantly in neighboring South American nations such as Brazil and Colombia.
After mass political mobilizations failed to bring about real change, it became clear that the only real way Guaidó could topple Maduro is by winning the support of the country’s military, whose rank and file to its leadership are chosen based on their loyalty to the regime. Last April, Guaidó announced that he had finally won their backing and they were ready to recognize him as president as part of “Operation Freedom.” In reality, he had only convinced a handful of figures to switch sides and the takeover fizzled out more quickly than it had begun.
[#AHORA] Un militar se suma a la "Operación Libertad" de Juan Guaidó. Se trata del teniente Ilich Sánchez, comandante del Destacamento 432 de la Guardia Nacional (Vía: @oliverandresfz) pic.twitter.com/Hv5TSRDHm3
— NTN24 Venezuela (@NTN24ve) April 30, 2019
Desperate for some kind of solution, the 35-year-old went against the wishes of the majority of his supporters and entered “negotiations” with the socialist regime. After several rounds of discussions, it became clear that Maduro had no real intention of ceding anything, with Guaidó ultimately ceding to the Venezuelan people’s wishes and saying he had given up negotiating with a “deadly dictatorship.” A nationwide survey taken at the time – nearly a year ago – found that 87.6 percent of Venezuelans opposed any form of dialogue with the regime, while just over ten percent of respondents said supported the talks.
Since the failure of those talks, Guaidó’s political influence has continued to wane. In January, he was almost ousted as the National Assembly leader (and therefore as president) by the regime, which illegally attempted to take over the chamber. With no real options left, he has lost the trust of many of those who supported him and is widely seen as an opposition leader rather than a legitimate president.
After a chaotic day, Venezuela now has two leadership boards of its National Assembly:
one elected by a small faction of the opposition along with pro-Maduro lawmakers (left) and the other led by Juan Guaido and supported by the majority of the opposition (right). pic.twitter.com/yMi88o9dMS
— Cody Weddle (@coweddle) January 5, 2020
Due to the technical aspects of the way the Venezuelan constitution is written, he remains the nation’s real president. Yet according to a poll taken last May, more Venezuelans think “nobody” is their president rather than Juan Guaidó.
This week, reports surfaced that his allies had entered fresh talks with the regime over the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, which represents a grave threat to the stability of the Maduro regime. Despite multiple sources confirming the talks, Guaidó denied that they ever took place, while specific details of the talks have yet to be revealed.
With Maduro’s continued leadership, Guaidó’s weakness, and the further damage wreaked on the economy by the coronavirus lockdown, the situation for Venezuelans looks bleaker than ever. With no effective opposition, many people will now be wondering whether putting in a paid-up socialist as the man to lead the country to freedom was the brightest idea in the first place.