Good Riddance, Juan Guaidó

Juan Guaidó was supposed to be the appealing, human face of US-backed regime change in Venezuela. His ouster as “interim president” this week is another signal that those efforts have failed.

Former Venezuelan National Assembly president and opposition leader Juan Guaidó speaks during a press conference in Caracas, on June 14, 2022. (Federico Parra /AFP via Getty Images)

It’s official: Juan Guaidó is no longer the president of Venezuela.

He never was, of course. Ever since 2019, when Guaidó used his position as head of Venezuela’s opposition-led legislature to declare himself president of an “interim” government that never did much actual governing, observers have had a lot of fun sharing memes of the man announcing that he was everything from the UK’s new monarch to the winner of 2020’s dysfunctional Iowa caucus. But as of this week, Guaidó can no longer even use the title of fictional president.

Venezuela’s National Assembly voted seventy-two to twenty-nine on Monday to strip Guaidó of his nonexistent presidency and dissolve his interim government after nearly four years, with the opposition finally concluding its strategy had failed. Guaidó’s “government” was meant to have stepped in and organized new elections after sitting president Nicolás Maduro was ousted in a US-backed coup, but none of that happened. Instead, with the opposition failing to get the military on its side and with regime change efforts marked by the kind of incompetence you’d normally see in a Police Academy movie, Guaidó was left treading water, struggling to organize new protests the size of those in 2019 and occasionally reminding the world he still existed — as when he endorsed the far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in this year’s Brazilian elections.

Looking like he’d been grown in the same political petri dish as Barack Obama or Emmanuel Macron, Guaidó was meant to give a soft, liberal-ish face to Mike Pompeo and Elliott Abrams’s efforts to topple Maduro and replace him with a pliant, business-friendly government. But as his backing of Bolsonaro hinted at, Guaidó was far from the anodyne crusader for democracy and anti-corruption much of the press portrayed him as.

In reality, it appears that Guaidó was more or less a sock puppet for imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo López, an (to quote the US State Department) “arrogant, vindictive, and power-hungry” corporate scion who had played a leading role in the failed 2002 coup against Hugo Chávez. According to the Associated Press, López and his “loyal acolyte” Guaidó talked half a dozen times each day and closely coordinated every one of the latter’s moves and speeches.

It didn’t help, too, that Guaidó’s “interim government” — to which Donald Trump’s administration had handed control of some US-held Venezuelan assets it had seized — was marred by a corruption scandal, nor that the “president” himself drew all the wrong headlines after being photographed putting his arms around members of a Colombian drug-trafficking paramilitary. The expiry of the five-year terms of opposition legislators in January 2021 and their boycott of legislative elections further undermined his government’s claim to legitimacy, largely the only thing it had going for it. By the time he started a new year as “acting president” in 2022, Guaidó had about as much claim to the Venezuelan presidency as I do.

In the end, Maduro clung on to power thanks to the key backing of his military and the support of Turkey, China, and Russia. But what really sealed Guaidó’s fate was the war in Ukraine, with the resulting energy shocks leading Joe Biden’s administration and Europe to begrudgingly soften their opposition to Maduro and start dealing with his government and the sizable oil reserves it controlled out of necessity. The symbolic dagger in the heart of Guaidó’s legitimacy may well have been at the COP27 summit this past November in Egypt, where Maduro had several friendly interactions with US climate envoy John Kerry and European leaders like French president Macron, who pointedly called him “president.”

Venezuela still has serious challenges ahead, including the massive corruption and repression that have marked Maduro’s leadership, the question of what happens to the seized assets granted to the now-dissolved opposition “government,” and the wider political crisis that brought Guaidó to prominence in the first place. But a US-backed effort to overthrow Venezuela’s government and replace it with a friendly, right-wing puppet was, to put it mildly, an inappropriate and destructive way to try alleviate its people’s suffering, much of which is the result of brutal and needless sanctions the US government could lift at any time.

Venezuela has ninety-nine problems, but at least Juan Guaidó is no longer one.