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Venezuela's Guaido tries to rebuild the momentum to oust Maduro

Juan Guaido, acting President of Venezuela, speaks at an event on February 1, 2020, in Miami, Florida, USA.
Juan Guaido, acting President of Venezuela, speaks at an event on February 1, 2020, in Miami, Florida, USA. © Saul Martinez, AFP

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido has called for "a great mobilisation in Caracas" upon his return to the country after a two-week international tour aimed at shoring up global support and building enough momentum to oust President Nicolas Maduro. But he may have missed his chance.

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“We have a plan. We have a strategy,” Guaido told expatriates at a rally in Miami, USA. “We're not alone and we're going to restore democracy.”

As his voice blasted through the speakers of a Miami convention centre on Saturday, he tried to rally the crowd with how he would end the political and economic "tragedy" in his country.

Guaido’s No. 1 objective remains the same: unseat socialist President Nicolas Maduro, who he says is a "dictator".

 

"There is only one option: to achieve free elections," he added in his usual fast-paced and determined speech in Florida's biggest city, which has a large Venezuelan community. But he presented very few details of how he would realise his plan upon returning to the country.

"Guaido's will to end with Maduro was a failure and his strategy will remain completely blocked,” Gaspard Estrada, executive director of the Latin America and Caribbean unit at Sciences-Po University in Paris, told FRANCE 24.

Although Guaido has been recognised as Venezuela's interim president by nearly 60 nations – including the United States, France and Britain – Estrada said he has already "missed his chance”.

 

'No way out'

First rising to prominence in January 2019, the 36-year-old became the living promise of a Maduro-free Venezuela, leading huge demonstrations. But in the end, "2019 has been a total disappointment for Guaido's supporters", Estrada said. After instigating an unsuccessful army uprising on April 30, his popularity plummeted: from 63 percent in January, it fell to 39.9 percent in December, according to the Venezuelan polling institute Datanalisis.

"Now, he has no way out of this crisis," said Estrada.   

Guaido's visit to Miami rounded out his two-week international tour, during which he tried to rebuild the momentum he appeared to have early 2019. He started in Colombia and then headed to Canada and Europe – where he met world leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron, the Netherland's Prime Minister Mark Rutte and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and made a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

 

Trump and Guaido both in Florida… but no meeting

But a key meeting missing from his trip was one with his most important and strongest ally: US President Donald Trump. Although both were in Florida on the same weekend, Guaido met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Republican figures such as Senator Marco Rubio but not Trump. The US president was clearly busy with other things as he tweeted a photo of himself at his Florida Mar-a-Lago golf club early Saturday.

 

"This missed opportunity illustrates the disappointment that 2019 represented to everyone who believed in Guaido and shows how the world's diplomacy is now in a very delicate position … they don't know who they should address," said Estrada.

"With the unsuccessful army uprising", Guaido thought he would profit from the military's internal divisions, continued Estrada. "But the military integrated even more into Maduro's regime and now he has lost any influence he once had on the army.”

"We want him to tell us what’s going to happen,” Gloria Bejaramo told AP. The 65-year-old travelled from Venezuela to South Florida to visit a daughter. "I’ve always supported him, and everyone is looking for a way out of this situation to achieve democracy."

To the Miami crowd, Guaido promised "a great mobilisation". But upon his return he faces multiple challenges.

"He met with key world leaders, but his biggest problems remain within Venezuela: A part of the country's opposition pledged alliance to Maduro and there have been serious accusations of corruption among his closest allies," said Estrada.

 

Maduro renders Guaido's return a 'non-event'

Although he won a new term as the National Assembly's leader on January 7, Guaido's leadership is “fragile", Estrada said. Venezuelan authorities imposed a travel ban on him, which he defied with this latest international tour, and he expects to "create a major event merely by coming home like he did last year, when he was greeted by many countries' ambassadors.

"But this time, Maduro's officials have already announced he can come back with no problem: They made his return a non-event and diminished its importance.”

And Venezuela appears doomed to remain in its crippling economic crisis despite having the world's largest oil reserves.

"Guaido's great power was the support of international leaders, but even this has now shifted,” said Estrada. “They have seen he did not manage to deliver on his promises to oust Maduro and, even worse than that, Argentina and Mexico – who were both regional allies – have also changed their stance and elected left-wing presidents” over the past year.

“Maduro has the upper hand now, and the world is accepting that they need to include him," concluded Estrada.

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