In Venezuela, Juan Guaidó's Campaign Faces New Difficulties

Sep 25, 2019
Originally published on September 25, 2019 7:54 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

On the sidelines of the U.N. today, President Trump called for an end to the horrible and brutal oppression in Venezuela. He promised more money for the effort and underscored his support for opposition leader Juan Guaido. But as NPR's Philip Reeves reports from Venezuela's capital Caracas, Guaido's campaign is facing new difficulties.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: The struggle for power in Venezuela is shifting ground. It's come here, to the country's Parliament, or National Assembly. This place is controlled by the opposition, led by Juan Guaido. He's the man, remember, who says that under the law, he's Venezuela's interim president.

Here in his Citadel, the 36-year-old Guaido seeks to perform that role, signing new laws and appointing diplomats for a government that doesn't exist on the ground. His archenemies from Venezuela's ruling Socialist Party are in the minority here, with under a third of the seats. For the last two years, they've boycotted this assembly while their president, Nicolas Maduro, systematically undermined its authority.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: Now the Socialists are back. They arrive together and jostle through the ornate wooden doors. Chavez, Chavez, they chant...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Chavez, Chavez.

REEVES: ...Referring to Hugo Chavez, the father of Venezuela's socialist revolution and the reason they're also known as Chavistas. Among them is Ramon Lobo.

RAMON LOBO: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: We're here on Maduro's orders, he says, to correct the mess Guaido's opposition have made of this place, and also, he says, to counter efforts to use it as a platform to press for foreign military intervention or more U.S. sanctions.

Guaido arrives amid a throng of cameras. He's making the best of a bad day.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JUAN GUAIDO: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: Almost all Venezuelans want and need change, he says. They desperately lack money, food, electricity and water.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JUAN GUAIDO: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: There's torture and oppression, so there should be more pressure on Maduro's dictatorship, he says.

(CROSSTALK)

REEVES: The day's session begins. Both sides accuse each other of violating Venezuela's constitution.

(CROSSTALK)

REEVES: The public gallery is packed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: Guaido's supporters chant president, president. There's a group of Chavistas in the gallery dressed in the red of the Socialist Party. When Guido speaks, they heckle.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JUAN GUAIDO: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: There is a background to this raucous day. Eight months ago, Guaido took the presidential oath of office before a huge crowd in Caracas. More than 50 nations recognized him, led by the U.S. In April, Guaido tried to trigger an army uprising. The military remained loyal, so Maduro survived. Since then, there have been talks brokered by Norway to try to find a political solution. Guaido pulled out of these last week, accusing Maduro of negotiating in bad faith, yet a group from the opposition broke ranks, carried on talking and struck a separate deal with Maduro. The return of the Socialists to the assembly is part of that deal. Many suspect Maduro's engineered this split. Political analyst and pollster Luis Vincente lay on says the breakaway group is tiny.

LUIS VICENTE LEON: It's not true that this little group of people are going to destroy Guaido. But what is true is that the perception of division destroy hopes.

REEVES: When people lose hope of change, says Leon, they disengage in politics. And that only helps Maduro and his attempt to cling onto power amid the chaos of Venezuela.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Caracas.

(SOUNDBITE OF JULI SONG, "ZERRISSEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.