Juan Guaido has risen from backbench obscurity to the US-backed, self-declared interim president of Venezuela in just three weeks, amid a deepening political and economic crisis in the Latin American nation.
Few Venezuelans had even heard of the 35-year-old politician when he was plucked from anonymity and named as president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly in early January.
The move set up a high-stakes standoff with President Nicolas Maduro, who is increasingly seen as a dictator both at home and abroad.
Guaido stunned Venezuelans on Wednesday by declaring himself interim president before cheering supporters in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, buoyed by massive anti-government protests.
An industrial engineer who cut his political teeth in a student protest movement a decade ago, Guaido was elected to the National Assembly in 2015, and in its first session this year was named its leader.
The architect of Guaido’s meteoric rise is Leopoldo Lopez, Venezuela’s most popular opposition leader, who is muzzled under house arrest and considered by government opponents to be a political prisoner.
While in Congress, Guaido earned a reputation as a hard worker and consensus-builder while serving as the head of the comptroller commission that investigates allegations of government corruption.
Guaido told The Associated Press news agency in a recent interview he doesn’t fear running into the same fate as his political allies. He pointed to scars on his neck caused by rubber bullets fired during 2017 street demonstrations against Maduro.
“I still have projectiles lodged here,” he said.
Critics say Guaido lacks a political vision, pointing to his rambling debut speech as the legislature’s president, which was full of rhetorical barbs aimed at the “usurper” Maduro but short on specifics on how to get out of the malaise.
Still, others see his youth and relative inexperience as breathing life into the beaten-down opposition, making Maduro’s frequent diatribes that it is dominated by elitist relics from Venezuela’s pre-revolutionary past harder to stick.
Guaido prides himself an athlete and is a devotee of his hometown’s Sharks – a perennial loser in the Venezuelan baseball league.