Who is Venezuela's Juan Guaido, the new rival to Maduro?

This weekend we looked at the welcome news that both the United States and the Organization of American States had joined numerous other nations in condemning the administration of Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro, declaring his presidency illegitimate and supporting the National Congress in that country. Owing to provisions in the Venezuelan constitution (or what’s left of it after Maduro basically gutted it), if the tyrant was actually found to be illegitimate and removed from office, that would mean that the leader of the National Congress would be in a position to assume the presidency. That person is Juan Guaido. (Full name: Juan Gerardo Guaidó Márquez.)

As I mentioned yesterday, Guaido has already stated that he is “ready” to take control, but there’s still the pesky matter of getting Maduro out of office first. No sooner had he made the announcement than federal officials tracked him down, dragged him out of his vehicle and took him into custody. In a stroke of good fortune, Guaido was released later that same night, but given Maduro’s track record, that situation may not last for long.

But let’s just imagine for a moment that Maduro could be removed, either through a popular uprising or a military coup. What sort of leader would the Venezuelan people be getting with Juan Guaido in charge? The Associated Press has dug into the man’s history and offers a few clues.

An industrial engineer who cut his political teeth in a student protest movement a decade ago, he was elected to the National Assembly in 2015, and in its first session this year was named its leader…

However, the perils of tangling with Maduro are no laughing matter. Shortly after he was elected head of the National Assembly, the rival constitutional assembly controlled by Maduro’s allies threatened Guaido and others with an investigation for treason…

The architect of Guaido’s meteoric rise is Leopoldo Lopez, Venezuela’s most popular opposition leader, who is muzzled under house arrest and considered by government opponents to be a political prisoner.

At a time when many had written off the National Assembly, which was stripped of its last bit of power after the government set up the rival constitutional assembly in 2017, Lopez maneuvered behind the scenes for his Popular Will party to assume the presidency of the gutted legislature.

So Guaido is a young guy at 35 years of age. In fact, that’s very young to be elected president of the National Assembly in his first elected term, leapfrogging over literally hundreds of more senior members of the opposition parties. He’s also been the recipient of a big leg up from a powerful benefactor and numerous, more conservative supporters from outside the country.

That doesn’t mean that having Guaido replace Maduro would suddenly turn Venezuela into some sort of democracy-loving capitalist paradise. Plenty of people in the opposition parties were fine with socialism, provided it benefited them. They just became disillusioned after first Chavez and then Maduro took them deeper and deeper into corruption and failure. Still, he would have to be an improvement over the current situation and might at least get the nation’s agriculture and oil companies back into operation and stabilize the currency.

All of this is still pure speculation, however. Maduro has powerful allies both inside Venezuela and in foreign nations including Russia and China. The military has not shown any signs of seriously considering a coup and street protests by the people have thus far done nothing to move Maduro toward the exit. And as far as Guaido’s official position goes, Maduro’s hand-picked judges on the country’s highest court have helped him scrap large portions of the constitution and strip the National Assembly of its power. Until those situations change, Guaido’s popularity isn’t going to translate to any actual change in the nation’s fortunes.