Leader Spotlight: Juan Guaidó

Name: Juan Guaidó

Country: Venezuela

Title: Interim President

Party: Voluntad Popular (Popular Will)

Ideology: Progressivism, Social liberalism, Radical Centrism, Social Democracy


Juan Guaidó was born into a middle class family in the coastal city of La Guaira, the capital of the state of Vargas. When he was in his final year of high school, Guaidó was marked by the 1999 Vargas tragedy, in which flooding and massive debris flows killed between 10,000 and 30,000 people and whole towns were wiped out. As a result, Guaidó had to leave for Caracas, the capital, where he graduated as an industrial engineer in 2007. That same year, he took an active role in the student protests against Hugo Chavez, after the socialist leader proposed a constitutional reform to eliminate presidential term limits. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Rise to Power:

In 2009, Guaidó became a founding member of Voluntad Popular, which was led by Leopoldo Lopez, Guaidó’s political mentor. Lopez, a divisive figure, was never able to unite the different ideological factions that composed the opposition to the regime. The opposition won a majority in the National Assembly in the December 2015 elections, but Nicolas Maduro didn’t accept the result, and he dissolved the chamber in the summer of 2017- a move that was denounced as undemocratic by twelve Latin American governments. On January 5th 2019, with the main leaders of the Venezuelan opposition under arrest or in exile, Juan Guaidó was elected leader of the National Assembly. He was arrested on January 13th by the Venezuelan intelligence services, but was released shortly afterwards. On January 23rd, he was sworn in as president of Venezuela, which he justified on the basis of article 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution, according to which, in the case of the president’s “absolute absence”, the president of the National Assembly will serve as interim president until elections are held. Ever since, Guaidó has been working to overthrow the dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro, and more than 50 countries have already recognized him as the legitimate leader of the country.

Three Recent Policy Issues:

  • Request for International Aid: In order to alleviate the dramatic humanitarian catastrophe that Venezuela is enduring, President Guaidó has requested humanitarian aid from the international community on multiple occasions. The United States, along with other countries such as Colombia and Brazil, have offered assistance. However, Maduro has sent his armed forces to the border with Colombia and Brazil to stop the aid from entering the country. The conflict over the aid is important for various reasons. First, the entrance of aid threatens to weaken Maduro’s hold on the country, as it would offer an alternative to the government as a source of goods. Further, it is a symbolic humiliation for Maduro, as it proves that his regime is unable to provide even the most basic necessities to the population. Lastly, it tests the commitment of the military to Maduro’s regime, as the armed forces are forced to choose between loyalty to the regime and allowing the entrance of much needed aid.

  • Amnesty Offer: To weaken Maduro’s control of the military, President Guaidó has offered amnesty to all of those members of the armed forces who abandon Maduro. The policy has only been partially successful. Hundreds of members of the armed forces have abandoned the regime, but Maduro still maintains the support of the high command. Nonetheless, the fear of losing their support has led Maduro to arm violent civilian militias known as the “colectivos”.

  • Remaining in the Country: President Guaidó has thus far taken the decision to not abandon Venezuela and go into exile, as other Venezuelan opposition leaders have done. Despite facing constant threats of arrest from Maduro officials, Guaidó has argued that it is his responsibility remain in Venezuela in order to better lead his country moving forward. On January 31st Maduro’s special forces entered Guaido’s home, where his wife and daughter were present while he was away. This was interpreted as a threat designed to intimidate Guaidó. In order to protect Guaidó, who could be tortured by Maduro’s forces in the case of his arrest, the U.S. administration has warned that his detention would have serious consequences for the regime.

Most Notable Accomplishment: President Guaidó has managed to unite the different sectors of the Venezuelan opposition, whose internal conflicts had been a key impediment to its success in the past.

Most Infamous Position: The Venezuelan regime has attempted to brand Juan Guaidó as a puppet of a neocolonialist Trump administration, which Maduro has accused of being responsible for the unfolding of events. Whilst Trump officials have certainly been very active in supporting Guaidó’s cause, the reality is that a broad international coalition has come out in support of Guaidó, including the European Parliament and the Organization of American States (OAS).

Interesting Facts:

  • Guaidó participated in a post-graduate program in Political Management and Government at George Washington University.

  • Guaidó suffered a neck wound by rubber bullets from the police during the 2017 anti-regime mass protests, during which he also had his hand broken.

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