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Juan Guaido interview: ‘All Venezuelans want change’

Venezuela’s opposition leader discusses the worsening political crisis, sanctions and the future of his country.

In January 2019, Juan Guaido, the almost-unknown president of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly, took his country and the world by surprise, declaring himself interim president of Venezuela.

The justification was that President Nicolas Maduro was not a legitimately elected leader, but a usurper and dictator.

Venezuelans, desperate for economic and political change, rushed to show their support. And with the US leading the charge, nearly 60 countries followed suit.

But 12 months later, the promise of political change seems to have evaporated.

With help from China, Russia, Iran and others, Maduro has circumvented harsh economic sanctions meant to force him out. Negotiations to allow new presidential elections have failed miserably, as has Guaido’s appeal to the army to support regime change.

Maduro has retaliated by arresting or exiling scores of opponents.

Driven by worsening poverty and hyperinflation, disheartened Venezuelans have joined the unprecedented exodus of millions of their compatriots to neighbouring countries.

On January 5, soldiers surrounded parliament to block Guaido’s re-election as speaker of the house while the pro-government minority named a candidate of its choosing.

While much of the international community calls the latest conflict escalation a sham and continues to recognise Guaido as the leader of Venezuela’s only independent institution, the crisis seems to be reaching a new tipping point. And regime change seems a very distant possibility. 

So, what is next for Guaido and Venezuela? Has he underestimated Maduro’s resilience? And how can Guaido weaken the military-based government’s power?

“There is a dictatorship in Venezuela,” Guaido tells Al Jazeera. “I think we underestimated its malice, the dictatorship’s ability to cause harm. The government violence, pressure, murder, blackmail at the expense of peace and even territorial control … The Venezuelan people are suffering, there are more than five million migrants, many families torn apart.”

Asked whether the economic sanctions that he called for actually worsened the crisis and are to blame for Venezuelan people’s suffering, Guaido says: “It is not true that this happened because of the economic sanctions. Nicolas Maduro is entirely responsible for the crisis, no doubt about it … the dictatorship destroyed Venezuela and the only tool we have are the sanctions on corrupt officials and violators of human rights.”

Despite Maduro’s grip on power and his latest move to claim control of the National Assembly, Guaido says he believes change will come for Venezuela. 

“All Venezuelans want change … Venezuelan people are fighting for their freedom,” he says. “It’s not just about politics, it’s much more than that … Today, 93 percent of the country wants and needs change. Venezuelans are dying of starvation, lack of medicine and they don’t even have their relatives in the country.”

Asked about his role, elections, and whether he still has the support of the people, Guaido says, “It’s not that people believe in my leadership. I am not a messiah, I’m a public official. I am coordinating this process that has been building up for years in Venezuela and we will steer it towards finding a solution.” 

“We can put an end to Maduro’s dictatorship, and have prosperity and normality back,” Guaido tells Al Jazeera.  “We have to go back to normality first. We must have water, electricity, gas, gasoline and public transport back. We have to do everything we can to keep pushing all together until everything goes back to normality.”