The politician spearheading efforts to force Nicolás Maduro from power has vowed to step up his “fight for freedom” amid reports Venezuelan special forces had visited his home in the capital Caracas.
Addressing a packed theatre at the city’s Central University of Venezuela on Thursday lunchtime, Juan Guaidó said the opposition was determined to end Venezuela’s “tragedy” and lead the country into a new era of stability and prosperity.
The 35-year-old former student leader – at the centre of a growing political storm since declaring himself Venezuela’s interim president last week – summoned new protests for Saturday in an effort to increase pressure on Maduro’s embattled regime.
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“The dictatorship believes it can scare us,” Guaidó told an audience of supporters, announcing that he had received reports of his home being visited by members of the Special Actions Force (FAES) police unit. His baby daughter and grandmother were reportedly at home at the time.
Guaidó insisted Venezuelan citizens would fail to be intimidated and had grown tired of the humanitarian emergency into which their country has fallen under Maduro.
“It isn’t through … repression that they will manage to tame a brave people that seeks freedom, democracy, food, medicine and above all a better future for their children,” Guaidó said, to loud cheers from the crowd.
“We are in the streets and we will remain in the streets until the usurpation ends.”
As the opposition leader spoke the crowd erupted in cheers of “¡Sí se puede!” (“Yes we can) – the Obama-era slogan the young politician has sought to adopt in his struggle to bring down Maduro.
One woman shouted: “You’re not alone Guaidó! We’re all with you!”
Guaidó was speaking at the launch of Plan País (Plan for the Country) a wide-ranging opposition blueprint that claims it can rescue Venezuela’s economy and end a humanitarian crisis that has seen around a tenth of the population flee overseas.
The plan – a direct challenge to Maduro’s six-year Plan de la Patria (Homeland Plan) – includes projects to revive the country’s once great oil company PDVSA, fix Venezuela’s broken health service and feed its starving people by guaranteeing them access to basic food stuffs and offering grants to the poorest 48% of families.
“[The plan is] a joint effort. There is no one spokesperson. There is no messianic leader. This is a team, a big team of leaders who are committed to [Venezuela’s development],” said Guaidó, who had been a little-known politician until the crisis catapulted him to national and international prominence this month.
“People say that this is a problem of left or right in Venezuela. No. It’s a problem of humanity,” he added.
Elizabeth Guerrero, a 59-year-old retired teacher, had come to watch with a poster that read: ‘Juan Guaidó. Thank you for giving us hope and faith’.
“I’m here because Juan Guaidó has given us back hope and filled us with faith that, yes, we can get out of this chaos. The people were resigned because it seemed like there was neither a plan, nor a strategy. But [the opposition] are showing that [they can] … help us out of this disaster.”
Who is Juan Guaidó?
Yon Goicoechea, a prominent opposition leader, said: “We are closer to democracy than ever before.”
Guaidó urged the Venezuelan security forces to throw their weight behind his bid to unseat Maduro, which has received backing from the United States, and regional heavyweights including Brazil and Colombia. Leading European states including France, Germany and Britain have declared Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate interim leader.
“I say to FAES [Venezuela’s special forces] and I say to the armed forces: you still have time to put yourselves on the right side of history and to respect the constitution,” Guaidó said.
Outside the university’s tree-lined entrance, hundreds of riot police had gathered and students chanted anti-Maduro songs.
Pro-Guaidó graffiti artists had taken to the nearby walls with red paint.
“The dictatorship is hunger and terror,” read one message. “Enough misery and repression,” said another.
Maduro, crucially, continues to enjoy the backing of both Beijing and Moscow.
But on Thursday Guaidó urged them to cut loose his political rival – who came to power following Hugo Chávez’s death in 2013 and was returned to office in disputed elections last year – and embrace a new government he claimed would reintroduce the rule-of-law and stabilise Venezuela’s collapsed economy.
“China and Russia would also benefit from a change in government in this country,” he argued.
Maduro has accused Guaidó of being a puppet in a US-backed coup attempt. In a video released on Tuesday morning he accused Donald Trump and the “group of extremists around him” of plotting to topple him in order to seize Venezuela’s oil.
Trump risked transforming the South American country into a new Vietnam, Maduro claimed.
“We will not allow a Vietnam in Latin America. If the US intends to intervene against us they will get a Vietnam worse than they could have imagined,” he said.