Wednesday, 8 Feb 2023

From obscurity to world fame, the man seen as nation's saviour

The rise of Juan Guaido from back-bench obscurity to the US-backed, self-declared interim president of Venezuela in just three weeks has been meteoric – and by his own recognition risky.

Few Venezuelans had even heard of the fresh-faced, 35-year-old legislator when he was plucked from relative anonymity and named as president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly in early January.

The move set up a high-stakes stand-off with President Nicolas Maduro, increasingly seen as a dictator both at home and abroad.

Instead of backing down, Guaido stunned Venezuelans on Wednesday by declaring himself interim president before cheering supporters in Venezuela’s capital, buoyed by massive anti-government protests.

And support from President Donald Trump, Canada and numerous Latin American countries, along with the Organisation of American States, immediately rolled in behind him.

But even as he was symbolically sworn in, he foretold of dangers, telling supporters: “We know that this will have consequences.”

Moments later he slipped away to an unknown location amid speculation he would soon be arrested.

Last week, Venezuela’s feared SEBIN intelligence police pulled Guaido from his vehicle as he headed to a town hall meeting and briefly detained him.

And the rival constitutional assembly controlled by Maduro’s allies threatened Guaido and others with an investigation for treason.

Key to Guaido’s rise to prominence has been timing – and behind-the-scenes backing.

As Venezuela’s economic crisis deepens, with masses fleeing the country to escape runaway inflation on pace to surpass 23 million per cent, many are desperate for a new leader to rescue the once-wealthy oil nation.

Into that void stepped Guaido.

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

At the time, Maduro made light of his newcomer status, feigning confusion over whether his name was “Guaido” or “Guaire”, a notoriously polluted river that runs through Caracas.

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