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'Professional' opposition figure: Can Juan Guaido offer a meaningful alternative for Venezuela?

'Professional' opposition figure: Can Juan Guaido offer a meaningful alternative for Venezuela?
The US and its allies spare no effort promoting Venezuela's self-proclaimed 'president' Juan Guaido as the face of democracy in the crisis-ridden country. But what kind of politician is he and what agenda might he pursue?

The eight days Washington's allies in Europe gave to President Nicolas Maduro to call new presidential elections in Venezuela have passed. The UK, Austria, Spain, France and Sweden have already granted their official recognition to Juan Guaido, who declared himself Venezuela's leader last week. In doing so, they joined the relentless campaign the US wages to strengthen the legitimacy of the man who challenges Venezuela's elected president.

The leader of the long paralyzed and almost defunct legislature, Guaido is now hailed by Washington as an embodiment of salvation for the Latin American state that has been suffering from a deep economic crisis while being subjected to increasingly restrictive US sanctions. But what does this man really have to offer Venezuelans?

Creating an opposition leader

Surprisingly, one would hardly find a single piece of news mentioning Guaido before January 2019. Like a bolt from the blue, he turned from a regular opposition figure who barely received any attention at the national level, not to mention the global stage, to a person in the international spotlight.

An industrial engineer by training, Guaido also completed a postgraduate program in public administration at George Washington University in the US. He has also long flirted with the Venezuelan protest movement. He first opposed the policies of Venezuela's late president, Hugo Chavez, back in 2007 while still a student.

Two years later, he was one of those who founded the social democratic 'Popular Will' party, which explicitly opposed the governments of Chavez and Maduro. His role in the party, however, was apparently long unnoticed, as the political force was dominated by the image of another politician – the controversial opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who still heads the 'Popular Will'.

Lopez led the massive 2014 anti-government protests in Venezuela, which ended in deadly clashes with government supporters. Jailed for more than 13 years in 2015 on charges of inciting violence and having criminal ties, he was transferred to house arrest in 2017.

Now, Lopez is described as Guaido's "mentor," who keeps regular contacts with his protégée.

Guaido himself is definitely no stranger to street protests either. Before he drew crowds to the streets of Caracas with his speeches in 2019, he took part in the violent unrest that flooded Venezuela in 2017 and was reportedly even injured with plastic buckshot in the neck during one of the protests.

From paralyzed parliament member to 'vanguard' of change?

His career as a politician and a statesman is somewhat less impressive, though. Before declaring himself Venezuela's president, Guaido was serving his first five-year term as a lawmaker, after entering the National Assembly alongside 13 other Popular Will members as part of a broad coalition consisting of about a dozen parties back in 2015.

In 2017, he took up the post of Comptroller's Commission head and investigated "multimillion-dollar corruption plots," as his party's statement put it. It is unclear if he achieved any meaningful results, though.

In August of the same year, the National Assembly was stripped of its legislative powers, which were then assumed by the newly-formed Constituent Assembly – a body tasked with changing the Venezuelan constitution. The opposition chose to boycott the elections to the Constituent Assembly and instead continued to cling to the almost defunct parliament, which had no real leverage over state affairs.

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Now, as tensions in Venezuela heat up once again, it has apparently been decided – many would argue not without lobbying by foreign influencers – that Guaido will serve as a "tool" for change. The statement published by his party at a time when he was elected to lead the National Assembly called him a "vanguard" that would "confront" what they called the "delegitimized" Venezuelan government. The statement also declared Maduro's ousting to be the "only" goal pursued by the opposition.

'The US is running the show'

It seems, however, that Guaido has little to offer beyond that. The self-proclaimed "president" has mostly manifested himself by calling new protests and regularly talking to his major international backers – the US. His team did, however, present what it calls the program of Venezuela's "revival," which is boldly named 'the national plan' (Plan Pais).

The program appears to be filled with glaringly populist slogans apparently aimed at winning over the impoverished people suffering from the crisis. The list of measures particularly involves securing guaranteed supplies of "at least 12 food products" as well as medication, "restoring" 24,000 schools, and re-employing oil industry workers fired under Chavez and Maduro, as well as government subsidies to the most vulnerable.

It also vows that Venezuelans will not be forced to live in austerity, as the economy will be "reactivated" – all in a state combating hyperinflation and having staggering debt of US$150 billion. A gargantuan task, indeed.

The program mentions some "modifications" in various sectors of economy, but also tends to see "foreign investments" as a sort of 'one size fits all' solution. According to some estimates, Venezuela would need investment of US$20 billion to US$30 billion a year for the next several years to start the economic recovery – something that would not just appear out of thin air.

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A "career" opposition activist with a lack of experience in state management, Guaido might end up pushing someone else's agenda. And he is closely linked to the pro-US forces, according to some experts.

"The US asphyxiated the Venezuelan economy" to get the desired result, Alfred de Zayas, a former UN expert and professor of law explained, adding that the food and medicine shortages can be blamed in part on US sanctions imposed against Caracas. Now, the US expects Guaido to "do what Washington tells him to do."

"He [Guaido] would privatize oil industry, natural resources. There will be a [sell-off] or rather looting of natural resources and the beneficiaries would be the big transnational corporations," Zayas said, adding that a "major goal" of those behind the self-proclaimed interim president consists in taking the natural resources from the state and giving them to the private entrepreneurs.

Such developments might turn out to be a disaster for Venezuela as the lack of resources at the hands of the state would most likely lead to cuts in state funding of social programs. "Free education… and medical care are likely to disappear," Zayas stated.

He said that Guaido would lead a "Washington-oriented" government which would "do what Washington wants." He would "bring us back to the days when rich were rich and the poor were poor," according to Zayas.

Guaido represents the "party of Leopoldo Lopez," Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, an associate professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, said, adding that this political force has "been in constant contact with the US."

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"The opposition leadership has never thought about the Venezuelan people in a realistic way or cared about the people," Correa-Cabrera told RT, adding that they never had any specific economic plan while their political discourse only amounted to criticism of the Maduro government.

"They are not thinking of the future, they just want to take power… and utilize the assets and ties of the US… by aligning with Washington," she said.

"His not just a person, he is [the] face of a group that depends on the US" to a significant extent, she said. The capabilities that Guaido and his followers have almost directly depend on what the US and its allies do, as the opposition lacks resources in Venezuela to conduct any meaningful policy on their own.

Francisco Dominguez, a specialist on Latin American political economy at Middlesex University, made similar observations.

"The US is running the show. It is clearly their ploy. They are micromanaging the actions of Guaido and the actions of the Venezuelan opposition," he told RT, adding that despite Washington's patronage, the opposition suffers from infighting and poor organization.

Venezuela's crippled economy is in desperate need of fixing – but it seems that Guaido's 'Plan Pais' may be a Trojan Horse designed to strip the South American nation of its natural resources and political sovereignty.

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