Less than a month ago, Juan Guaidó was virtually unknown. Now the world’s eyes are on him as the main leader of political opposition to the government of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela.
In a matter of days he activated the Venezuelan opposition, and today he has been sworn in as interim president of Venezuela in the middle of a deep economic and social crisis that has affected the country and the church for years.
Here are nine things you should know about Juan Guaidó and what is happening in the country of Venezuela:
1. Juan Guaidó, 35, is an activist in the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) political party. He recently arrived at the center of Venezuela’s political scene when he was sworn in as president of the National Assembly in early January.
2. The Assembly, chaired by Juan Guaidó, is the only opposition body in the country that has been recognized as legitimate by the international community. The members of this Assembly were chosen in elections in December 2015. However, the government of Maduro has not recognized this Assembly, and in 2017 it formed a parallel assembly, the National Constituent Assembly, through a national election labeled as fraudulent by the opposition and the international community.
3. Juan Guaidó and the Venezuelan opposition argue that Nicolás Maduro is not the legitimate president of Venezuela and that there is currently a presidential absence. This is because the presidential elections last May have been classified as fraudulent by the international community and by many in the country. However, Maduro was sworn in as president on January 10 for a second six-year term, and his government holds the National Assembly in contempt.
4. According to the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the absence of a legitimately elected national president means that the president of the the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, must assume the presidency. This has brought hope to the opposition, whose main leaders have been arrested or persecuted by the Maduro government.
5. Before the swearing in of Maduro, Juan Guaidó summoned the Venezuelan population to massively and peacefully demonstrate on January 23 against Maduro, calling him a usurper and dictator. This date is significant in the history of Venezuela, since it is the 61st anniversary of the overthrow of dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez. The population responded with great support, while the Venezuelan government accuses the opposition of orchestrating a coup.
6. In the run-up to the demonstrations and protests on January 23, Juan Guaidó was arrested on January 13 by forces of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN in Spanish). However, he was released in a matter of hours. Government spokesmen reported that the detention of Guaidó was carried out by disobedient officials under the orders of SEBIN, and because of that they released him later. For his part, Guaidó argued that he was released because the agents who arrested him sympathize with the opposition.
7. Juan Guaidó has offered amnesty for all the military and government officials who leave Nicolás Maduro’s service, which has given a renewed boost to the Venezuelan opposition. This action seeks to promote internal fractures within the government of Maduro, and it seems to be working, with military uprisings occurring.
8. On January 23, before the crowd of demonstrators on the streets of Caracas, Juan Guaidó was sworn in as “president in charge of Venezuela.” This is a decisive step by the opposition against the government of Nicolás Maduro. He promised: “Before God almighty: Venezuela, I swear to formally assume the powers of the National Executive as president in charge of Venezuela, to achieve the cessation of usurpation, a government of transition, and free elections.”
9. Juan Guaidó has already been recognized as president of Venezuela by U.S. President Donald Trump, the European Union, the Organization of American States, and other countries around the world. This is undoubtedly the best moment for the opposition in years. Many analysts and Venezuelans fear that violence may be unleashed in the streets in clashes between government forces and opposition protesters, as has previously occurred.
It is our Christian responsibility to pray for Venezuela, which has suffered for years from a humanitarian crisis. The Bible has much to say about oppression and freedom. That freedom, which many Christians enjoy today, shouldn’t be taken for granted. Let us unite in prayer for a peaceful transition in a country that needs it.