Recently recovered after contracting the coronavirus, Juan Guaidó, 37, has started betting his chips on a “national salvation deal”, with support from the international community, to remove dictator Nicolás Maduro from power. Venezuelan leader says conditions in the country today, which are more severe due to the Covid pandemic and the deteriorating economy, are more favorable to the opposition, which has the backing of the government of the US president Joe Biden, in an attempt to achieve free elections.
In a videoconference interview with Folha, he says he is skeptical of the dictatorship’s gestures which appear to be signs of openness, as they are led by the same people who support the confiscation of media properties, as was the case with the El Nacional newspaper.
“There is no division in the regime between conservatives and moderates. They are the same people, it is like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,” he said, referring to the story published in 1886 by the Scottish Robert Louis Stevenson, better known under the name of “The Doctor and the Monster” in Brazil, where a doctor swings by means of a serum between a good doctor and an unscrupulous being, violent and sadistic.
Yet Guaidó recently contacted the Chavista regime offering a dialogue to demand an electoral timetable in exchange for the gradual withdrawal of international sanctions. The change of speech came after part of the opposition became part of the electorate dominated by the dictatorship.
In an interview with Folha, Roberto Picón, member of the new CNE [Conselho Nacional Eleitoral] and an opponent of the regime, he said that being part of the body was a way of trying to occupy the possible spaces left by the dictatorship. What do you think of that? I respect Roberto’s position, but I don’t agree with the political strategy. Accepting this CNE chosen by an irregularly elected National Assembly helps to legitimize the dictatorship. This has happened at other times in history. In Nazi Germany, in Pinochet’s Chile, there was always a group that, with some excuse, accepted flexibility, condescending to an authoritarian government. It does not bring any change. On the contrary, it helps normalize the dictatorship. You cannot be more or less in favor of human rights.
This regime maneuver, that of calling opponents to the CNE, gives an idea of concession, especially when it comes to a former political prisoner, as is the case with Picón. I respect him, but it’s a way to manipulate him, to protect him. Our Constitution does not say that the CNE must have quotas, two for one group, three for another, or nothing to that effect. There must be five independent deans, says the law. So what about accepting that the dictatorship allows [a presença de] two opponents? We cannot swallow this speech because it is a propaganda maneuver.
But you, who have always insisted on the mantra “end of usurpation, free elections” and taken the position of someone who does not accept dialogue, recently proposed to open negotiations. What changed? A mantra is not a dogma. We are working with Norway as facilitators of this agreement. A negotiation today would not be the same as in the past, in which Maduro could lie or simply get up from the table. And we will not enter without the necessary guarantees. And these guarantees cannot be gestures, nods of the head, they must be commitments overseen by the international community that guarantee humanitarian aid, elections and the interruption of human rights violations.
There are those who interpret the release of executives from the US Citgo refinery and the formation of the new CNE as positive gestures on the part of the regime. But negotiations have already taken place before failing. What makes you optimistic about a possible deal now? We are at a new moment in terms of the gravity of the situation in the country, which has deteriorated a lot with the pandemic and the worsening of the problems that already existed. But the so-called nods or nods are from a long time ago. Every time they release political prisoners, hold supervised elections, give the impression that they are heading for an opening. But they don’t actually do it. We no longer believe in these gestures. These measures are aimed at relaxing the sanctions, but there is no spirit in the international community to relax the sanctions except for more concrete guarantees.
The same regime that makes these gestures is the one that confiscates the building of the newspaper El Nacional. Does this show an internal division in Chavismo? There is no internal division. Yes, there are groups competing for areas of interest: those in the mining sector, those in the armed forces, those in the petroleum sector. But there are no currents, like a moderate, a more radical, a conservative. They are the same people. It’s like dr. Jekyll and mr. Hyde, you know? The same people who promote the gestures of liberating prisoners or saluting the opposition are those who agree to confiscate the [jornal El] National. There is no current or division when it comes to how the regime works.
The electoral calendar foresees regional elections this year. In 2017, part of the opposition participated, including people who support you. What will the position be now? We cannot lose our focus. The dictatorship wants to talk about this election now to put us in a dilemma. We will decide whether or not to participate later. We’re not going to make it a priority on our agenda now just because Maduro wants it to be. What we want is to move forward in a national salvation agreement, with strong international participation.
How did you receive the support of the Biden government? What are the next steps? Maduro tried to tell those around him that a Biden victory would favor him because the United States would no longer uphold the Trump-era sanctions. But we knew it wouldn’t happen. We hope that the pressure from the United States, the international community, and the OAS will be even greater. We are at another level of gravity of the situation. And Maduro’s weakness is also huge, politically, economically. We cannot give up on exerting pressure.
How the death of Jesús Santrich interprets [ex-guerrilheiro das Farc] in Venezuelan territory? This demonstrates what we have been saying for years, namely that foreign criminal and terrorist groups are protected by Maduro in our territory. It also shows that the dictatorship is losing control of our country’s sovereignty. Because he no longer even controls the actions of these groups in the border region, and that is why he had to send troops. The problem grew and got out of hand. The clashes in Apure are very serious to show it. And for endangering the lives of so many Venezuelan civilians.
You have been the Leader of the Opposition since 2019. Since then, there has been wear and tear. Are you self-critical? I am often asked this question and it makes me think. Of course, I made mistakes. But we must remember that we are in a dictatorship. And we try everything. We fought for a majority in the National Assembly, we succeeded, we took people to the streets, we ran for unfair elections, then we decided not to run, we sought to international aid, we tried to negotiate. What we have never changed is the conviction that it is necessary to continue to exert pressure, and the conviction that we cannot relativize the rights, normalize the dictatorship.
So when I hear that kind of question, I think and I do, yes, I criticize myself, but I wonder if those who focused on our mistakes are in any way condescending to the dictatorship. Maduro is still here, not because of my mistakes, but because it is a dictatorial regime with military might. So that they understand that it is not easy and that we do not stop pressing.
Juan Guaidó, 37 years old
Elected deputy by the state of Vargas, he was president of the National Assembly of Venezuela. In January 2019, he was proclaimed president of the country.