A Year On, Venezuela's Guaidó Is Trying To Find His Mojo. A Bad Movie Might Help
It’s no secret Juan Guaidó’s political opposition movement has stalled – and with it the hope of urgently needed change in Venezuela. But a “Big Lebowski” spinoff movie could help jumpstart it. Seriously.
A year ago this week, Guaidó sparked a worldwide cause célèbre by declaring himself Venezuela’s constitutionally legitimate president – with the backing of the U.S. and more than 50 other countries – and calling for the ouster of Venezuela’s authoritarian socialist president, Nicolás Maduro.
But Guaidó’s anniversary as an international inspiration has instead an air of international desperation. He’s in Davos, Switzerland, right now trying to rekindle the célèbre that’s vanished from his cause.
Maduro remains entrenched in power – and could jail Guaidó, who is officially barred from leaving Venezuela, once he returns from Europe. So Guaidó, Venezuela’s National Assembly leader, is imploring global leaders at the World Economic Forum to do more to help him drive out a hyper-corrupt regime responsible for the worst economic collapse in the world today. He’s urging them to boycott Venezuelan “blood gold.” He’s reminding them of the government’s bromance with the terrorist group Hezbollah.
Still, while he’s got international bigshots gathered in a Swiss Alps resort town, Guaidó could drive home why they should tighten the screws on Venezuela's regime by adding one item to his PowerPoint: a screening of the new film “The Jesus Rolls.”
If Guaido shows The Jesus Rolls to veteran diplomats at Davos, many might choke on their popcorn when Max Arvelaiz's executive producer credit appears – and they might remember why they should tighten the screws on Venezuela's regime.
It’s an unofficial spinoff of the 1998 Coen Brothers cult classic “The Big Lebowski,” directed by and starring John Turturro in a reprise of his very creepy role as Jesus, the pervert bowler. Early reviews for “The Jesus Rolls,” set to open in U.S. theaters next month, have been largely negative. But for Guaidó’s purposes, the film’s Rotten Tomatoes score matters a lot less than the score foreign governments may want to settle with one of its executive producers:
Former Venezuelan presidential adviser Max Arvelaiz.
Two decades ago, Arvelaiz, born in France to a Venezuelan mother, was a lefty grad student in Europe. But his thesis on Venezuela’s newly elected socialist revolution caught the eye of its firebrand leader, President Hugo Chávez. He recruited Arvelaiz to help him cultivate international partnerships and prestige.
Leveraging Venezuela’s vast oil wealth, Arvelaiz did help turn Chávez into an anti-U.S. standard bearer from Port-au-Prince to Paris to Pyongyang. In fact, no one marketed Chávez Chic better than Max did. On my reporting trips to Caracas he insisted over long dinners that his boss was a more modern, democratic, 21st-century socialist than 20th-century caudillos like Fidel Castro.
That of course turned out to be sheer crap. Chávez admittedly helped empower Venezuela’s forgotten poor, but by the late 2000s he was in full autocrat mode. Max had always insisted to me that Chávez would never do away with presidential term limits. When Chávez did just that, and I pointed out he intended to rule for life, Max testily accused me of “passing bourgeois judgment” on a great people’s leader. Ditto if I questioned Chávez’s economy-wrecking confiscation of private businesses.
ROTTEN BILL OF GOODS
For his dogmatic loyalty, Max was made ambassador to Brazil and then advised Maduro when he became president after Chávez died in 2013. Max was Maduro’s choice for ambassador to the U.S. – but when diplomatic relations between Caracas and Washington imploded for good in 2016, Max (who’d also studied film) headed for Hollywood, trading red berets for red carpets.
And that’s where he becomes useful to Guaidó at this moment. Max has left a lot of resentful international diplomats in his wake as he departs the revolution. Seeing the millions of hungry Venezuelan refugees pouring into neighboring countries, reading the U.N. reports on the Maduro regime’s deadly brutality, many feel hoodwinked and betrayed by him today.
As an Italian diplomat who once dealt with Max and now works with destitute Venezuelans in Colombia told me: “Max sold our foreign ministries a rotten bill of goods about that revolution.”
Max did not respond to an interview request for this article. Nor has he responded to several articles in recent years questioning where a former apparatchik got the millions to help bankroll films like the Oliver Stone flop “Snowden.”
No proof has emerged that Max exited Caracas with briefcases of corrupt cash, as so many of Venezuela's socialist honchos have. But either way, if Guaidó invited veteran foreign policymakers to watch “The Jesus Rolls” in Davos, enough of them just might choke on their popcorn when Max’s executive producer credit appears. And they just might remember why they should put the célèbre back in Guaidó’s cause.