As Venezuela Crumbles, Opposition Led by Juan Guaidó Sees an Opportunity
Mr. Maduro’s leftist government, which faces sanctions from countries including the United States, is now surrounded by right-wing leaders in Colombia and Brazil. At home, hyperinflation led the president to instate a new currency, which in recent months has been losing value as well. More than three million Venezuelans have fled the country for lack of food and medicine.
Yet if Mr. Maduro has been unpopular, the opposition has been almost equally imperiled during the crisis.
Since 2017, the National Assembly has been effectively sidelined by a new legislative body created under Mr. Maduro and packed with his supporters. Last year the opposition was so divided over how to confront the president that two parties broke with a boycott to participate in the elections while the rest sat it out.
“People have been frustrated with the opposition, and tired of the same old faces of the politicians of the old establishment that have failed,” said Margarita López Maya, a retired political scientist in Caracas who taught at the Central University of Venezuela.
Mr. Guaidó’s rise may mark the opposition’s last, best chance to revive itself, many believe.
“He’s a hard worker, he’s humble and he can unite us,” said Lilian Tintori, whose husband, Leopoldo López, is Venezuela’s most well-known political prisoner and Mr. Guaidó’s mentor. “But the risk for him is enormous. They may do the same to Juan as they did to Leopoldo, to put him in jail.”
Mr. Guaidó was already briefly detained by masked members of Venezuela’s intelligence service on Jan. 13, two days after declaring his intent to oust Mr. Maduro from power. Accounts differ on the nature of the arrest: The government said he had been detained by rogue officials who were later disciplined, while Mr. Guaidó maintained the agents who detained him had seemed sympathetic to the opposition.
Foreign officials, particularly in the United States, who want to see a transitional government in Venezuela, say they saw in Mr. Guaidó a fresh-faced leader from humble origins who contrasted with previous opposition leaders, whom Mr. Maduro disparaged as oligarchs and right-wing extremists.