1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

The accidental 'president': Who is Juan Guaido?

Evan Romero-Castillo | Jenipher Camino Gonzalez
January 24, 2019

Despite declaring himself the interim president, Juan Guaido is not a household name in Venezuela's opposition, but he has been at the forefront of one of the boldest moves against Nicolas Maduro. How did he get there?

Juan Guaido gestures during a speech on January 23, 2019
Image: Reuters/C.G. Rawlins

One of the most daring acts of the Venezuelan opposition in recent years has been led by Juan Guaido, a relatively unknown figure who on Wednesday declared himself interim president of Venezuela in a move that represents a serious challenge to President Nicolas Maduro.

People close to Guaido have described him as a political "centrist." The 35-year-old has been a member of the Voluntad Popular (VP), Popular Will,  political opposition party since shortly after the organization was formed in 2009.

Read more: Venezuela at a crossroads​​​

VP has long been seen as one of the more radical parties within the opposition, and belonged at the time to the now-defunct Unity Roundtable, an agglomeration of parties that led the Venezuelan opposition for years.

A youth activist

An industrial engineer by trade, Guaido began his political career in Caracas at the Andres Bello Catholic University just as an opposition student movement was flourishing. Between 2010 and 2015, he was designated a substitute deputy in Venezuela's national assembly.

In 2015, he joined other opposition figures in a hunger strike to pressure the National Electoral Council to set a date for parliamentary elections that year.

The legislative vote took place in December 2015, and Guaido became a member of Venezuela's National Assembly, representing the Caracas-adjacent state of Vargas for the 2016-2021 legislative period.

At that time, the Venezuelan opposition won the majority of seats and gained control of the legislative body. But in 2017, Maduro moved to strip the National Assembly of its powers and created a new government body, the Constituent Assembly, to be Venezuela's legislative branch.

Juan Guaido gestures during a speech at the National Assembly
With much of his party's leadership out of politics, Guaido's star has risen fast in VenezuelaImage: Getty Images/AFP/F. Parra

Filling a leadership vacuum

Due to its strongly confrontational strategy against Maduro, VP's political leadership was pushed out of Venezuelan politics. The charismatic and wildly popular opposition figure Leopoldo Lopez was jailed in 2014 and continues to live under house arrest.

Freddy Guevara, who was vice-president of the National Assembly, was accused of committing acts of political violence in 2017 and sought refuge in Chile's embassy in Caracas, where he still resides. Carlos Vecchio, VP's party coordinator, went into exile after Maduro's government held him responsible for the deaths of protesters in 2014.

The VP leadership wipe-out paved the way for Guaido to step into such a high leadership position at an early age and with relatively less experience. He was sworn in as leader of the National Assembly and de facto leader of the opposition early in January, at a time when not many in Venezuela had heard of him. 

Now some regard Guaido's youth and novelty as just what the opposition needs to revitalize the fight against Maduro at a time when the country is plagued by an economic crisis and Venezuelans are fleeing in large numbers.

DW editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it here.