CARACAS – Opposition leader Juan Guaidó is vowing to stay in Venezuela and press for an end to President Nicolás Maduro's rule despite threats, while working with the administrations of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden and other world leaders to revise sanctions aimed at forcing a transfer in power.
“We must review these mechanisms at the international level to exert pressure on this dictatorship and find a solution,” Guaidó said. “We have to use the tools at our disposal to stop this violation of human rights.”
Guaido talked with The Associated Press on Wednesday at the Caracas home he shares with his wife and 3-year-old daughter. It's a key moment for the opposition that he leads with backing from the United States and dozens of nations.
His coalition boycotted congressional elections on Sunday as fraudulent, handing the National Assembly to Maduro, the only branch of government that had been out of the socialist leader's control. Guaidó had used his position as head of the body to claim presidential powers, challenging Maduro.
Guaidó's coalition is also holding its own referendum which culminates on Saturday. It asks Venezuelans at home and abroad to say whether they wish to end Maduro's rule and hold fresh presidential and legislative elections.
“Maduro's regime wants to annihilate any form of alternative democracy,” Guaidó said.
Maduro, however, celebrated victory in the most recent elections claiming control of the National Assembly, while his political alliance won with a turnout of just 30% of registered voters. That’s less than half the turn out for the 2015 election, which gave control to the opposition.
Maduro said taking the National Assembly back will help him end opposition-led violence in Venezuela’s streets fomented by Guaidó as well deflect crushing international sanctions.
Nearly two years ago, Guaidó, 37, rose to head the National Assembly, vowing to oust Maduro, hold fresh elections and end the crisis that's seen 5 million Venezuelans flee. He called Maduro illegitimate after 2018 elections renounced by many nations as a farce because the most popular opponents were banned from running.
Guaidó said he's not stopping his fight on Jan. 5, when his term in the National Assembly ends and lawmakers loyal to Maduro take office. He's staying in Venezuela, despite Maduro allies saying they will use the newly won legislature as a vehicle to punish the opposition.
“One thing I can guarantee is that I’m staying in Caracas,” Guaidó said. “If this dictatorship wants to come for me, it could do it at any time. That hasn’t stopped us before and it won’t stop us now.”
Rather, come January, Guaidó and his coalition of opposition lawmakers will operate under the concept of “constitutional continuity,” although he acknowledged that the mechanism is not completely defined.
He said they're prepared to improvise. Since January 2020, Maduro's security forces had blocked the lawmakers from their legislative hall in the center of Caracas, and the coronavirus pandemic forced them to hold their sessions online.
Guaidó declined to say whether he's made contact with Biden's incoming administration, but he said there's a need to revise U.S. financial sanctions and support from world leaders. They have not so far removed Maduro from power.
The U.S. has hit Maduro and dozens of his political allies with personal financial sanctions. It also sanctioned the Venezuela-run oil firm PDVSA, designed to choke Maduro of its profits. But Guaidó said it is time to revisit the sanctions, which have not forced out Maduro.
“Evil travels at a speed far faster than the counterweights of the world’s democracy and bureaucracy,” he said.
Luis Vicente Leon, president of the Caracas-based polling firm Datanalisis, said Guaidó remains relevant internationally as dozens of nation's recognize him as the legitimate leader.
“Juan Guaidó, despite that, also faces a mountain of challenges, each day more difficult, harder and dangerous for him,” Leon said. “The first is time.”
Guaidó had a popularity rating of 61% in Feb. 2019 immediately after rising to challenge Maduro. By last month that had dropped to 30%, as people grow frustrated that the opposition has failed to oust Maduro. That downward trend continues, as hope has been “pulverized,” Leon said.
Guaidó said, however, he's not deterred.
“I'm a militant of optimism and faith,” he said.
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