A lot of patience and a mobile phone – that’s what’s required to arrange an interview with Juan Guaidó, the Venezuelan opposition politician who set the country alight after declaring himself interim president in January.
It wasn’t easy: it took 13 days, 12 phone calls and 40 text messages before he agreed to speak to me. And even then, the 35-year-old only agreed to answer questions sent by e-mail.
But for a chance speak to one of the world’s most sought-after politicians? I couldn’t miss the opportunity.
Because this is a man who is fighting an unprecedented political battle in Venezuela. Guaidó wants to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro, claiming his government is illegitimate. He is on a mission to fix the “tragic” conditions plaguing the country, including hyperinflation, unemployment and urgent food and medicine shortages.
He is fighting historic Chavismo – the left-wing ideology based on the ideas of former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. And apparently, he does not fear for his own life – despite living in a country where “blood has already been shed” for change.
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In turn, Maduro’s government accuses Guaidó and the United States of attempting to stage a coup. But the opposition leader denies this – saying that whoever believes it “either do[es] not know what has happened in Venezuela, or say[s] it in bad faith.” But he has continually refused to sit down for dialogue with Maduro.
According Guaidó, his aspirations are much bigger than removing a single person from power. “We do not seek to put an end to Chavismo or to any politician. We want democracy.”
What is your opinion on those who defend the idea that you are part of a coup d’état?
They either do not know what has happened in Venezuela, or say it in bad faith. Nicolás Maduro is the one who has not listened to the will of the voters as expressed at the 2015 parliamentary elections.
It is him who has staged a coup by violating the constitution in force through the illegal call to a corporate Constituent Assembly in 2017, only composed of his acolytes.
And it is him who has been usurping the office of president of my country since January 10. I have no other intention than to restore democracy and the rule of law, both of which have been violated in Venezuela.
And what about those who say that you are a CIA agent – and even a puppet of the US establishment?
I am the president of the only democratically legitimate institution that is left in Venezuela (the National Assembly of Venezuela).
The representatives who make it up were elected in December 2015 under the framework of my country’s constitution. We haven’t been appointed by Mr Trump, who was not even president at that time. We have been elected by the Venezuelan people, and that must be respected.
Will see bloodshed in Venezuela?
Over the last 15 years, more than 250,000 Venezuelans have died in this country due to violence. Furthermore, the repressive forces which still respond to Maduro have remained active, committing numerous human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions.
Between 2015 and 2017, the number of extrajudicial executions carried out by this repressive machine has risen above 8,200, more than three times the number of missing persons in Chile during Pinochet’s military dictatorship.
There has already been a bloodshed in our country.
Do you fear for your life?
The responsibility I have taken on has involved risks to my family, my collaborators and myself.
However, that is not my greatest fear.
My greatest fear is that the Venezuelans go on without being able to get medications for their children. I fear that our senior citizens continue to die of malnutrition and preventable diseases. I fear the continuation of this dictatorship, which is the cause of the troubles and hunger experienced by the Venezuelans.
Why haven’t you received the armed forces’ support?
There is great repression inside this military institution, with many officials under arrest, being subject to torture, or even persecution by counterintelligence organisations which receive advice from the Cuban dictatorship to carry out their work.
They also want a change. My appeal to them as an institution is that of respect. We are not asking them to change their political stance or opinions; we are reminding them that they have taken an oath of honour towards the people and the constitution, which they must observe and enforce.
Donald Trump is one of your strongest allies. What is your political opinion on this?
In our fight to restore freedom in Venezuela, we have been supported by most of the democracies from the Americas and Europe.
The majority of Latin American countries with which we share historical and cultural ties constituted the Lima Group in August 2017, for the purpose of backing the efforts to re-democratise Venezuela. We are very grateful to all of them.
And what about the support you have received from Spain? Do you consider it sufficient?
We are very thankful for the support we have received by the different Spanish political groups for several years, from the Congress of Deputies as well as from their current government. Spain and Europe’s support is a great encouragement for us.
Do you believe greater involvement from the EU is needed?
If European governments want to contribute to a positive change in Venezuela, they must act all together so that the forces which still support Maduro feel the full weight of Europe’s diplomatic and political pressure. This has great significance for Venezuela’s re-democratisation.
In Europe’s eyes, there is a sense that after you initial rise, you’ve become stagnant.
The path we have set ourselves is not an easy one. We are confronting a dictatorship which relies on other dictatorships from around the world and which has no scruples about murdering or letting Venezuelans die.
We do not seek to “put an end to Chavismo” or to any politician. We want democracy, and we want Venezuelans to be able to have the right to freely choose our own destiny.
Do you fear being part of just another attempt to end to Chavismo?
I can only assure you that the Venezuelans are not giving in. We are not surrendering. Neither are we giving up.
Would you be willing to negotiate with Maduro?
The Venezuelan democratic forces have already taken part in efforts at dialogue, negotiations and agreements with Maduro’s regime on several occasions. We have done this both within and outside Venezuela, both privately and publicly, both by ourselves and through international representation.
The last time we have done this was in December 2017 and January 2018, in the Dominican Republic, supported by this country’s president, Danilo Medina, as well as by the chancellors from Mexico and Chile.
These processes have invariably had the same consequence – at the end of each dialogue, there were more political prisoners and fewer rights for the citizens.
It is a situation where not only Maduro and the leadership surrounding him never give in, but also, they take advantage of that circumstance to further safeguard this dictatorship. As you may understand, we cannot offer to take part in a new manoeuvre.
If Maduro had intended to facilitate dialogue, he could have released the political prisoners. He has not done that.
On the contrary, Deputy Juan Requessens is still being deprived of his liberty without trial, thus violating his parliamentary immunity.
Julio Borges, former National Assembly president, has been forced to go into exile due to persecution. Another Deputy, Gilbert Caro, a fellow party member at “Voluntad Popular”, has been detained for several months. And Leopoldo López continues to be under house arrest.
There are other cases of political prisoners with more than 15 years behind bars.
We do not refuse to participate in dialogue, but our position is that any agreement which does not stop this shall be considered as delaying tactics to keep Maduro in power.
Paraphrasing the beginning of Conversation in the Cathedral by Mario Vargas Llosa and his phrase, “At what precise moment had Peru fucked itself up?”... At what point and why had Venezuela fucked itself up?
It was when all the power was given to only one individual.
From that moment, the Venezuelan democracy started to die.
Democracy does not guarantee a good administration; it guarantees that people can get out of a bad administration. I joined political activism by participating in the student movement of 2007, precisely when we realised about the authoritarian drift under way.