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Latin America Report

Guaidó Game Plan: Did World Tour Revive Stalled Quest To Oust Venezuelan Regime?

Gaston de Cardenas
AP via Miami Herald
Venezuelan interim President Juan Guaido (left) talks to the media after his speech in Miami on Saturday. Next to Guaido is his ambassador to the U.S., Carlos Vecchio.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó rallied Venezuelan expats on Saturday at the Miami Airport Convention Center, an event that marked the end of a two-week world tour that included Europe and Canada. The aim was to rekindle international support for his campaign to oust authoritarian Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, which started a year ago.

WLRN’s Tim Padgett was with Guaidó on Saturday. Padgett spoke with WLRN’s Luis Hernandez about whether Guaidó’s movement still has a future – and why he didn't get to meet President Trump.

Excerpts from their conversation:

HERNANDEZ: The U.S. and almost 60 other countries still recognize Juan Guaidó as Venezuela's legitimate president. But it's no secret his efforts – and the Trump administration's effort – to restore democracy in Venezuela have stalled. Did this world tour revive it?

PADGETT: At least it's not flatlining anymore the way it was before he embarked on the tour. The fact that he defied the Maduro regime's ban against him leaving Venezuela – that he snuck out and shows up at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland – I mean, that alone put him back on the international radar.

And I think he did convince world leaders that there's still a chance to squeeze the Maduro regime out of power. I think he got the European Union more seriously onboard with a stronger boycott of Venezuelan gold, for example.

READ MORE: How Venezuelan Exiles Helped Expose 'Perfect Example' of Maduro Regime Corruption

The Maduro regime and the military bosses are using criminal enterprises like that “blood gold” to fill their own pockets and circumvent the heavy economic sanctions the U.S. and the international community have already slapped on the Venezuelan government.  But we can't forget that thanks to this socialist regime, Venezuela is suffering the worst economic collapse in the world today – and the worst humanitarian and refugee crisis in the western hemisphere – and its money reserves are running out.

Still, I think you'd have to be naïve to suggest Guaidó’s movement is out of the hole. After all the missteps we saw last year, the international community is much more skeptical now than it was a year ago.

Credit Justin Tang / Canadian Press via AP
Juan Guaido meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week in Ottawa.

And speaking of missteps, Guaidó mentioned that his movement made some errors in its first year. What do you think were the biggest mistakes that he and the United States have made in this campaign – and what do you think they'll be doing differently in the coming year?

The biggest was raising expectations ridiculously high about how quickly the Maduro regime would fall. Both Guaidó’s camp and the Trump Administration vastly underestimated how loyal the Venezuelan military remains to Maduro. They just didn't do their homework, so they didn't appreciate how much diplomatic work it's going to take to dislodge the military from that regime.

Most Venezuelans realize that Guaido, especially since he's still head of the National Assembly, is still the best opposition asset to rally around. But polls do show their faith in him has fallen since last year.

So, what I hope they'll do differently now is build on the things they did right last year – the first being the international coalition they pulled together against Maduro. If they can get governments, especially in Europe and Latin America, to apply more economic and diplomatic pressure on the regime – and on Russia, Maduro’s big helper – it could eventually force Maduro to call a new, fair election he would almost certainly lose. At the same time, I think Guaidó has to keep persuading those military chiefs that they're hitched to a doomed regime. It'll take time.

What about Venezuelans themselves? Did they tell you over the weekend that they still have faith in Guaidó’s ability to topple Venezuela's regime?

Most of them did, yes. But during his speech, you did see folks who've lost patience. They were the ones chanting “intervención,” calling for a U.S. military intervention in Venezuela to solve this crisis. But that's simply not going to happen. So I think most Venezuelans realize Guaidó, especially since he's still head of the National Assembly there, is still the best opposition asset to rally around. That said, however, polls do show their faith in him has fallen quite a bit.

And another big question after this weekend is: does President Trump still have faith in Guaidó? Why didn't he meet with Guaidó when he was only an hour up the road in Palm Beach?

Credit Pedro Portal / Miami Herald
Juan Guaido speaking to Venezuelan expats at the Miami Airport Convention Center on Saturday.

I’m still trying to figure that one out – because the optics it created for Guaidó were awful. Keep this in mind: the other big disappointment for Guaidó on this tour was that he could not get a photo op with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. So for President Trump to essentially snub Guaidó the way the socialist prime minister of Spain treated Guaidó, it doesn't exactly reassure the world that Trump remains confident in Guaidó.

But over the weekend, we did hear from a few people close to Guaidó’s camp that he might be invited to attend the President's State of the Union address in Washington. When I asked Guaidó about that on Saturday, he just said: “Stay tuned.”

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.