Fence-scaling Venezuela opposition leader rekindles his mojo

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National Assembly President Juan Guaido, Venezuela's opposition leader, climbs the fence in a failed attempt to enter the compound of the Assembly, as he and other opposition lawmakers are blocked from entering a session to elect new Assembly leadership in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020. With Guaido stuck outside, a rival slate headed by lawmaker Luis Parra swore themselves in as leaders of the single-chamber legislature.(AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)

CARACAS – In a crisp black suit with a bright blue tie, Juan Guaidó pushed and shoved his way through rows of helmet-clad national guardsmen, cursing and scolding them like schoolchildren for blocking him from entering Venezuela’s congress.

“You don’t get to decide who gets in!” he yelled, inching his face up close to the young man impeding his access to the legislature’s ornate halls.

In recent days, the opposition leader who drew thousands of Venezuelans to the streets last year only to see his momentum steadily fizzle as President Nicolás Maduro remains firmly in power appears to have gotten his mojo back.

Images of the man recognized by the U.S. and over 50 other nations as Venezuela’s rightful president scaling the National Assembly’s spiked iron fence, tussling with national guardsmen and taking a spirited oath, shouted into a darkened congress operating without electricity, seem to have riled up his base once more.

“Today he’s the star once again,” said Luis Vicente León, president of Datanalisis, a Caracas-based polling company. But, the analyst added: “It won’t be enough. He needs to convert his potential energy into kinetic energy.”

Much is resting on the 36-year-old lawmaker’s shoulders: Whether he can capitalize on the new momentum could determine whether the opposition’s flagging movement reinvents itself or drifts into the sidelines of history.

A significant test will come later this week when Venezuelans decide whether or not to heed his call for a new round of protests. Many are skeptical that Guaidó can still mobilize large numbers. An estimated 4.5 million people have fled the country, many of them the young people most likely to protest. Countless others are too preoccupied trying to meet basic needs like finding food and medicine to turn out for a demonstration that might not change anything.

Guaidó will also have to rally disparate opposition factions that united to re-elect him as head of the National Assembly over whether or not to participate in this year’s legislative elections. Thus far, the opposition hasn’t articulated a joint strategy. Many are weary of participating in a vote with Maduro still in power, pointing out that the current National Electoral Council is still stacked heavily in the president’s favor.