Back then, he escaped a travel ban and slipped into Colombia to attend a rock concert hosted by British billionaire Richard Branson. He shook eager presidential hands both there and around South America before launching a daring bid to return to Venezuela, flummoxing his opponents by sneaking back into Caracas’ main airport in plain sight on a commercial jet.
He was the star in his own meteoric tale, bolstered by the Trump administration and Venezuela’s neighbors: that he was the only legitimate leader of his country, and that Nicolas Maduro was done.
Change is likely not coming in Guaido’s wake — and his air miles are more a bid to resuscitate himself on the international stage than a chance for foreign capitals to hyperventilate about his transitional presidency.
So what has changed, if Guaido brought none?
Second, Guaido failed. His team was new to cutthroat politics, charmingly dazzled by their sudden overnight ascendance, and alternated between being startlingly adept and shockingly naive. The failed attempt to overthrow Maduro on April 30 was a decisive moment when Guaido and his emboldened supporters, including even soldiers in the streets of the capital in blue armbands, failed to turn the tide. Guaido failed at the one thing everyone knew he needed to break: the security forces and their hold on the guns, drugs, money and borders.
Which leads to the third change — in Maduro himself. He has been pragmatic, but also ruthless. A recent interview with The Washington Post saw him offer direct talks with the Trump administration and even business opportunities to American oil giants. Offering Trump business deals while the White House is busy instead pillorying you with sanctions borders on ridicule and is not something you do unless you are pretty relaxed.
Even Guaido’s fellow opposition legislators — together with journalists and bystanders — were physically attacked outside the National Assembly this month by Maduro loyalists. There’s always been thuggery, but the torture has become systematic and the targets on the street are broader now.
Maduro has also been smart enough to allow tiny reforms. The seat of power — Caracas — is strangely calm. A friend there tells me dollars are informally permitted to pay for goods, removing one grievance behind the protests and reducing the impact of hyperinflation on the local bolivar. If you have dollars you can eat, even if the city is even less secure. Wholesale decline has continued in rural areas, where barter is now common and food scarce. But if the capital is muddling through, Maduro’s grip on its levers of power can stay tight.
Yet none of Guaido’s failure alters the underlying crisis at the heart of Venezuela: that its kleptocracy and mismanagement are still bleeding it dry, with hundreds of thousands still refugees around the region. But it marks yet another opposition leader’s rise and then deceleration.
Guaido may not be done yet. Maduro’s new penchant for strong-arm tactics could see his rival arrested. That could spark internal fury, or meaningful external action. Military defectors in exile may muster enough foreign support to affect some sort of change. The Trump administration may have a backup plan.
But the most startling observation — a year since Guaido stood before a crowd of thousands of supporters in Caracas and declared he was the legitimate president of the entire nation — is how smoothly Maduro has sailed out of the storm.