Who is the opposition leader who just declared himself interim president of Venezuela?

Venezuela’s opposition president.
Venezuela’s opposition president.
Image: Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
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Venezuela’s National Assembly speaker swore himself in as the country’s interim president on Wednesday (Jan. 23) after massive protests against Nicolás Maduro’s government.

The US administration promptly recognized Juan Guaidó. Canada’s government followed.

It’s the opposition’s most dramatic challenge yet in the years-long fight against Chavismo, the left-wing populist movement started by the late Hugo Chávez. Guaidó, a 35-year-old engineer, is a relative newcomer to that struggle.

Guaidó was first elected (link in Spanish) to the National Assembly in 2011, but he kept a low profile until he became its speaker earlier this year. He’s part of a generation of young Venezuelans who have turned down opportunities abroad, choosing instead to stay home to try to improve the country’s dismal state. In Guaidó’s case, it was a job with a Mexican firm, according to Caracas Chronicles, a blog focused on Venezuelan news. In his Twitter profile, he describes himself as “in love with Venezuela.”

He gained national attention earlier this month, after describing Maduro as “an usurper” (Spanish) during a mass protest in Caracas and calling on the army to help drive him out of power. That day he also asked Venezuelans to take to the streets on Jan. 23, the anniversary of the fall of the military dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jiménez.

Guaidó is the protégé of one of the opposition’s most prominent leaders, Leopoldo López, who was jailed in 2014. “He’s a hard worker, he’s humble, and he can unite us,” López’s wife, activist Lilian Tintori, told the New York Times about Guaidó (paywall). “But the risk for him is enormous. They may do the same to Juan as they did to Leopoldo, to put him in jail.”

Guaidó was detained earlier this month by government agents, but was released shortly after.