A challenge to the opposition: who is Juan Guaidó?

February 7, 2019
Tensions have been surging through Venezuela as an opposition leader has risen to confront Mr. Nicolas Maduro. Controversy was suffocating Maduro because of his re-election that international leaders and citizens have established as illegitimate. Specifically, most viewed this re-election held last May as illegitimate because of a substantial amount of complaints of vote-rigging. 
As of January 23, Juan Guaidó is the opposition leader who has been sworn in as Venezuela’s interim president (Wagner, et al., 2019). Guaidó has a aura of unknown surrounding him, as many Venezuelans did not know who he was before this month. Nevertheless, Guaidó is an industrial engineer, as well as a new lawmaker for Venezuela’s Popular Will political party. The reason why he has become such a significant figure in Venezuela is due to his newly achieved position in the National Assembly. January 5 marked the day that Guaidó became the leader of the National Assembly, which granted him constitutional power to challenge Maduro. Specifically, Venezuelan constitution permits the head of the National Assembly to become interim president according to article 233 and 333 in Venezuela’s constitution (Bello, 2019). These articles describe how the National Assembly has this legal right when the validity of their constitution is in question. Specifically, article 233 establishes that “when the president-elect is absolutely absent before taking office, a new election shall take place... And while the president is elected and takes office, the interim president shall be the president of the National Assembly” (Bello, 2019). Thus, they argue that the illegitimate elections of last May are a worthy cause to challenge Maduro because the absence is seen through his “usurpation of the presidential office” (Bello, 2019). This can be translated as leaving the presidential position empty because he is not a valid president. In conclusion, Guaidó has the legal ability to declare himself as interim president. 
Although he appeared as a surprise for many Venezuelans, Guaidó has sparked hope within the community. He is young, bold, and personable, and he has quickly earned a significant amount of supporters. After the economic downfall and humanitarian abuses that occurred during the first term of Maduro’s presidency, Guaidó is a breath of fresh air for Venezuela. Maduro has earned a notorious reputation for abusing human rights through his position of power. Guiadó offers a refreshing campaign that portrays himself to be for the people and their democracy. Thus, Guaidó acts as a symbolic figure for Venezuela. He is not an elitist glittering with the power of growing up in the capital city Caracas, as he grew up in the working middle class city, La Guaira. The National Assembly offers an ‘ordinary Venezuelan’ to represent their nation as the interim president (Padgett, 2019). 
Guaidó wanted to earn the support of the people, as well as the military before officially declaring himself Interim President. There is now a battle for who will gain full control of the military, but earlier in their power struggle Guaidó was weary of the danger that threatened him through Maduro’s military control. Nevertheless, on January 23, Guaidó officially announced that he is the Interim President until official elections are held.
Aside from Russia, China, Cuba, Syria, Iran, and Nicaragua, internationally Guaidó has many supporters. On January 23, the U.S. recognized the Guaidó as the Interim President. This statement by the U.S. was significant because this initiated Maduro to cut off all relations with the U.S., and to command American diplomats to leave immediately. Nevertheless, the U.S. declared that Maduro does not have the legal right to threaten their diplomats. Guaidó declared his protection of American diplomats as well. Therefore, the establishment of the U.S. on the side of Guaidó demonstrates an insistence by international actors for Maduro to resign from power. 
Since Guaidó has a large range of international and national support, there is an elevated pressure on the movement to displace Maduro. However, Maduro still is a threat to Guaidó’s new position, as he has maintained some military support. It is controversial as to who still sides with Maduro, but one anonymous militant stated that “The military leadership is faithful to Maduro and will continue to be until he’s gone” (Ellsworth and Armas, 2019). They are recipients of many luxuries including economic and political influence, as well as control of the importation of basic goods (Nugent, 2019). This places Guaidó in a position of elevated personal danger despite having many crucial supporters. 
Nevertheless, Guaidó has recognized the danger of not having the military on his side. Thus, the power struggle between him and Maduro has shifted to focus mainly on the military. To combat Maduro, Guaidó has offered soldiers protection if they help to overthrow Maduro through an amnesty law. However, Maduro countered this with a call to action for his military asking them if they were joining “with the ‘imperialist’ United States” (Smith and Sanchez, 2019). This appeared on television, and the soldiers declared that they intend to defend their home no matter the situation. Therefore, it appears that this leaves Venezuela seperated in a standoff that will be determined by the military (Smith and Sanchez, 2019). 
Nevertheless, Guaidó urged his allies to put their support on display on January 23. He planned for a day of rallies to symbolize the end of Maduro’s regime. Nevertheless, the military did not topple Maduro. However, the rallies marked a turning point for Venezuela, as many protests occurred with large crowds demonstrating the people’s desire for change. This day symbolized a shift in Venezuela, and was “a chance for the opposition to show the world that the immense majority of people don’t agree with the government, want a change, and want the opposition to call for new elections” (Wyss, 2019). For this reason, people risked the fear of tear gas and military threats because they “feel like they have nothing left to lose because they have lost it all, including their children, who have left the country” (Wyss, 2019). 
As Guaidó has established himself as Interim President, many changes are in store. Continuous unrest due to uncertainty will continue until there is resolution in Venezuela. The international community will need to keep a close eye on Venezuela in the days to follow. 


  1. Scott Smith, Fabiola Sanchez. (January 27, 2019). "Rivals Maduro and Guaido vie for Venezuelan military backing".
  2. Brian Ellsworth, Mayela Armas. (January 23, 2019). "Caracas Spring? Not so fast, Venezuela's armed forces say".
  3. Meg Wagner, Veronica Rocha, Amandaa Wills. (January 24, 2019). "Violent protests in Venezuela".

About Author(s)

Carley Clontz
Carley is a junior at the University of Pittsburgh. She is studying Economics, Spanish, French, Global Studies, and Latin American Studies. Through academic programs, Carley has traveled to Mexico, Peru, and Bolivia. This is her first year as an intern for Panoramas.