Wherever he goes, the scenes are often the same. Opposition leader Juan Guaido has become a national hero of sorts. But up until a month ago, very few people in Venezuela knew his name.
Since January 23, when he invoked a constitutional provision to declare himself interim president, Juan Guaido has been catapulted to stardom.
For the past 3 weeks, he has embodied a renewed attempt by the Venezuelan opposition to remove Nicolas Maduro from power. But can the 35-year-old former student leader really do that?
Euronews' Anelise Borges met Juan Guaido after one of his rallies in Caracas to talk about Venezuela’s uncertain future.
Anelise Borges, Euronews: "Mr President, thank you very much for speaking to us, here on Euronews. Nicolás Maduro told me that your political campaign, your political movement, which he describes as a coup d’état against him, is over, has failed. What do you say to that?"
Juan Guaidó: "Well, Venezuela has spent years building a majority, a movement to mobilise towards unity. Today, 90% of the country wants to get out of this crisis. A crisis generated by someone who today usurps the function of Miraflores. A humanitarian crisis generated without precedent. 3,300 000 Venezuelans, 15% of the population, has been forced to migrate. Venezuelan GDP has contracted by 53 points, two million percent inflation last year. It is difficult for a civilian leader to carry out a coup d'état. That's what the military does. If it were a coup d'état, why am I still free? Giving interviews, mobilising, authorising the entry of humanitarian aid, naming ambassadors in the world. I don't know. It seems that he, who is in Miraflores today, usurping functions, is absolutely disconnected from reality. When we see big mobilisations like the one we saw on February 12 in Venezuela without precedent, in 60 places across the national territory; when we see a group of volunteers getting organised for the entry of peaceful humanitarian aid. I don't know. It seems that today, and in an alarming way because the citizens are the ones who pay, that Maduro is completely disconnected from Venezuelan reality."
Anelise Borges, Euronews: "This crisis, this political stand off, this situation where Venezuela has two presidents, is dragging on for longer than many observers had expected. Are you concerned that your movement could lose support, could lose momentum?
Juan Guaidó: "Venezuela has a legitimate president in charge. Unfortunately, in Venezuela, there was an election in 2018 that has brought us to this crossroads. Article 233 of our Constitution empowers me to assume the president-in-charge and produce truly free elections in Venezuela. When we see Maduro, who is more and more isolated, more and more withdrawn, who has no possibility of mobilisation....his solid support is falling away. For example Luisa Ortega Díaz, who was a prosecutor appointed by Chávez, is now in exile; he's keeping Miguel Rodríguez Torres in prison. Every day, pictures of Chavismo are torn down. So the success of our movement is guaranteed. Our support base is growing as seen through international aid, in recognition, in legitimacy, in capturing more and more movement. Trade union groups, trade union centres, unions, young people, students, volunteers... So the future for Venezuela is guaranteed. We have to deal with this hard present situation where people die of hunger, where those who are in the regime today deny an unprecedented humanitarian emergency, at least in this hemisphere. So the good news is that the future today is guaranteed for Venezuela and that Maduro is becoming more and more isolated."
Anelise Borges, Euronews: "You talk about a movement that is growing, that is getting more and more support. But this support would mean nothing if you don’t have the armed forces on your side. Are you negotiating with the Venezuelan Army right now?"
Juan Guaidó: "We are talking to all public workers, civilians and soldiers who are willing to pursue three objectives that will give us a step towards a better Venezuela: an end to usurpation, a transitional government and free elections. Any public worker who is also willing to participate in this process will also be subject to amnesty and guarantees, and that is part of the fear that the armed forces feel today. Of course, we are talking to public workers at all levels, I insist, civilians and non-civilians."
Anelise Borges, Euronews: "What has the Army been telling you?"
Juan Guaidó: "You've seen it. 27 sergeants expressed dissatisfaction in Cotiza, three weeks ago. Today they are being tortured in the Military Counterintelligence Directorate. A general of the air force expressed support for our taking charge of the presidency. Every day we receive messages and calls, but there is a sector that is being particularly persecuted, tortured, which is the armed forces. Today in Venezuela there are 350 political prisoners, 160 military prisoners, being tortured, persecuted, their families too. Venezuela today still lives under a dictatorship. That's why I told you, there are no two presidents, there is a cruel dictator, very cruel in Venezuela, and we are exercising functions to have a really free election that is the constitutional mandate that I have. That is the important thing that the world also knows at this moment. So speaking to the armed forces is key to produce a peaceful transition, that is what Venezuelans want."
Anelise Borges, Euronews: "What is your short term plan? What is your next move?"
Juan Guaidó: "The priority is to let humanitarian aid into the country on February 23rd. It will help us to contain the emergency. With this we are also testing the armed forces to see whose side they are on: are they on the side of the the citizen, the Constitution, or someone who today usurps functions and who even keeps the professional troops of the armed forces and middle managers hungry. They can not live on their salary. Today the minimum salary of the Venezuelan is $6 per month. So nobody can live with $6 a month, they can barely survive. So I don’t think a military man, a civilian, a nurse, or someone who belongs to the transport union likes this situation. So the situation in Venezuela is very tense, because a small group keeps abducting part of the arms of the Republic, the state bureaucracy, and every day makes reconstruction more expensive - reconstruction of the oil industry, the process of assembling, or reassembling, the rule of law, of freedom of expression, of a truly free election in the short term. But as I said during the rally, the battleground is chosen by the oppressor, and we have put a lot of sacrifice into years of struggle, in this construction of majority, of electoral majority, of majority exercised in the streets, and we are going to do everything possible to kick out of this dictatorship."
Anelise Borges, Euronews. "You just talked about the minimum salary here in Venezuela. Through your speeches, you seem to refer to the crisis a lot; you say you understand this crisis, you’ve been going through it. A lot of people say that the authorities here in Venezuela are out of touch. So I asked Nicolás Maduro, what he thought 2,000 bolivars could buy. He was unable or unwilling to give me an answer. Do you know what two thousand bolivars can buy today?"
Juan Guaidó: "You can’t buy for example a coffee with milk. But in Venezuela you can’t buy a kilo of cheese, you can’t buy... I mean that is, if you can find it, because sometimes you can’t even find it. You can’t buy a box of antibiotics. You can’t buy one dollar. With two thousand bolivars, you can’t even buy one dollar. So you can imagine what you can buy in Spain or France. Here it’s even worse, because our economy was dollarised. With inflation running at two million percent, people tried to protect their salary, and merchants or entrepreneurs began to match costs with the dollar. So, what I buy with two thousand bolivars in Venezuela ... I can't even buy a coffee with milk. A small coffee with milk, that is part of the fabric of Venezuelan culture, to drink an early morning coffee or to share with someone. You can't do that today in Venezuela."
Anelise Borges, Euronews: "The situation is very difficult. Some say it’s never been this bad. But some of your allies have been talking about supporting you all the way through and all options are on the table, even a military intervention. There could be a bloodbath, a massacre. Would you still support that?"
Juan Guaidó: "In Venezuela today there already is a bloodbath. Caracas, where we’re having this conversation, is the most violent capital in the world. The second most violent city is Valencia - two hours from here, and the fifth most violent is Puerto Ordaz - which is five hours away. We’re already in a bloodbath. Today in Venezuela there is a bloodbath because it is the most violent country in the world. The FAES, which is a special unit of the police and the armed forces, assassinates in cold blood, searches the protesters at home and kills them, 70 in just one week. There were 150 people murdered in the protests of 2017. So it is controversial to talk about that. I understand that they say it because this could lead to a supposed civil war. But there won’t be a civil war in Venezuela because nobody will take any risks for Maduro. Nobody is ready to take any risks for someone who has no political future, who’s not recognised by the world, who doesn’t even have the respect of his subordinates. Someone that broke the chain of power when he was not elected to a position that doesn’t correspond to him. So this option (military intervention) scares Maduro, which is why he keeps organising military exercises, and appearing with troops. While we get together with volunteers, peacefully, wearing white...So no there is no possibility of a civil war in Venezuela because we are already living one and nobody will take risks for someone who has no ideological principles and who’s looking to save himself and not his citizens. When they say there is a country who wants to intervene and take all the resources of Venezuela (USA) it’s complete ignorance. It is our main historical client. Even Chavez and Maduro were selling to our main client, which is United States. The second is India. We are already selling to the United States. Maduro is doing it!"
Anelise Borges, Euronews. "Your main client and also one of your main allies right now is the US President Donald Trump. He has called you. What did he have to say?"
Juan Guaidó: "President Trump called me, but also President Duque and, a few minutes ago, Sebastián Piñera. I also spoke with the president of France. We’ve spoken to all of them. Part of what I spoke with Trump about is support for democracy, support for our constitution, about this moment that we are guiding Venezuelans in a dignified and sovereign manner. In the three weeks that I have been doing this job, we have already had the support of almost 60 countries, which gives a country like Venezuela great opportunities and resources, the capacity to recover our economy soon."
Anelise Borges, Euronews: "How important has this international support been to you?"
Juan Guaidó: "It’s been essential. Essential just like the mobilisation of our people. We live in a global world. Our first oil client is the US. Then India, then Russia and China - with whom we have several deals. So these relations are important for the future of my country and any country. To have the support and trust that we have gathered. A few days ago we got 110 million dollars' worth of support from 30 countries for humanitarian help for Venezuela. This is something the regime is unable to do because it lacks something essential in any society which is trust."
Anelise Borges, Euronews: "Nicolás Maduro still has some important friends abroad. I’m talking about China and Russia. Did you reach out to them? What did they have to say?"
Juan Guaidó: "We want to talk to everyone. Russia and China have important investments in the Venezuelan oil industry and also some construction plans that the government of China executed through their development bank. Almost 90% of this construction is paralysed: trains, factories, sugar factories, among other things. We are talking about 6 billion paralysed. Venezuela went from producing 3.5 million barrels of oil a day to one million barrels a day. So pragmatically, logically, economically, financially... is it good for Russia that a country that is a business partner goes from three million to one million barrels? I believe the answer is obvious. Is it good for China that 90% of what it invested in construction work in Venezuela is paralyzed? I think the answer is obvious. Just like it’s obvious for Venezuelans that with Maduro one doesn’t eat, there’s no democracy, there won’t be trust, there won’t be loans to restart the economy."
Anelise Borges, Euronews: "But did these leaders pick up the phone? Did you manage to get someone to talk to you about possibly changing their opinion about Maduro?"
Juan Guaidó: "We’re making sure they get the message."
Anelise Borges, Euronews: "Nicolás Maduro is under a lot of pressure, unprecedented international pressure. But it seems it's also, to say the least, quite difficult to be in your shoes as well. The Supreme Court in Venezuela has imposed a travel ban on you, they blocked your bank accounts. You talk about members of your family being under a lot of pressure and being intimidated. Are you worried about what could happen to you or to your family?"
Juan Guaidó: "In Venezuela, exercising politics or exercising opposition can cost you your life. This happened to Fernando Albán, who was murdered by Sebin? He's a Caracas politican. It can cost also your freedom, like Leopoldo López, who's been in prison for more than 5 years now, or Juan Requesens, a politician, who's been kidnapped. It can cause you to be exiled like Carlos Vecchio, José Manuel Olivares, Gabi Arellano among others. It can cost you asylum like Freddy Guevara. Of course there is a risk if you are a politician in Venezuela. The judicial persecution that they make against me also happens to the unions. Rubén Gonzalez, principal trade unionist of basic industries in Venezuela is in jail. This is very funny because we are supposed to have a leftist regime or government and they imprison union leaders. It is a very deep contradiction of this regime. I am not worried about this costing my life or my freedom. If I give my life to serve the people. We know the risks we face. Our biggest fear is that what’s happening in Venezuela becomes normal. To go to a hospital where children die of malnutrition or dehydration. To go to a hospital where you can’t buy antibiotics. Today hospitals don’t have antibiotics. There are more serious cases. For example, as happened to an activist of ours, who had a bullet in his thigh. He lost his leg because there was no alcohol in the hospital. That is our concern, that our children grow up with the dream of leaving their country and emigrate because they do not find opportunities in the country where they were born. It has nothing to do with jail and that is why we have not stopped even if we’ve been threatened."
Anelise Borges, Euronews: "I want to talk to you about oil. Virtually the only source of hard currency for Venezuela. You’ve just named a new board directors for PDVSA and CITGO. How exactly is this going to work? Because these are companies that already have directors. This announcement has legal and financial implications."
Juan Guaidó: "Above all legal implications. Initially we named an adhoc board of PDVSA, that is the owner of CITGO Holding Corporation. We appointed these boards of directors to be able to take control of the assets. When we recognise ourselves as the president in charge, we have to perform as our jobs demands. And having Venezuelan and American jurisdiction, we are in the process of taking control of the Board. CITGO, is a refinery in the United States that refines extra heavy oil, which is what Venezuela has. That is why this was a strategic business for our country for years. And that's why, among other things, the United States is the main client for our oil. The extra heavy oil must be sold to refineries that can process it to have a finished product. That happens mainly in the United States, China and India. In the next few days we will take control of CITGO and will continue to operate normally. Because due to the reduction in oil production in Venezuela, where we have gone from 3.5 million to one million barrels a day, unfortunately we are only sending 100,000 barrels of the 700,000 that the refinery can process. It will be a very quiet transition. We will do the same once we can take control of PDVSA that has been destroyed in Venezuela. PDVSA became the third largest oil industry in the world. Today it is absolutely indebted, broken and dismantled due to a very bad management."
Anelise Borges, Euronews: "When you call for elections, and you’ve been talking alot of the important of having free elections here in this country. Are you going to run for it? Do you hope to go from interim president to president of Venezuela?"
Juan Guaidó: "My role at this moment is to coordinate all sectors, to lead and coordinate a very complex and unprecedented process. We are facing a dictatorship, persecution, political assassination, a dramatic social crisis. So that process of who is going to be our candidate, because we are going to have only one candidate in all our sectors, we must leave it for when the usurpation ceases and we bring together all sectors. To speak at this moment of a candidacy would separate us, and that is not what any Venezuelan wants right now."
Anelise Borges, Euronews: "What’s next for Venezuela?"
Juan Guaidó: "Happiness, hope, recovering our industries so we can create jobs and become once again the country we have always been – a country with open arms. We are the country with the second largest community of Italians. We have Spaniards, Colombians (living here). We have always been a country that received many people because there used to be opportunity. Because we have a privileged climate, mineral reserves, basic industries. So what’s our future? A future with plenty of opportunities once we re-establish the rule of law, judicial security so that we attract investment from the world to Venezuela - a free country."