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In less than a month, Juan Guaidó, the obscure, recent lawmaker, has become the self-proclaimed interim president of Venezuela and the gravest threat to Nicolás Maduro's authoritarian rule.
Guaidó, who defies Maduro on Wednesday with his oath of office, claims to be leading an interim government demanding free elections and leading Venezuela back to democracy. The 35-year-old was immediately recognized by the United States, Canada and most Latin American nations as the legitimate leader of Venezuela and received broad support from European countries.
In a speech on Friday, supporters cheered on an outside space in Caracas, Guaidó, announcing the fans: "We have awakened from the nightmare, brothers and sisters."
Maduro, who has led Venezuela in the last six years in food shortages, hyperinflation and political repression, refuses to move. Its ruling socialist party controls almost all government institutions. On Thursday, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López said that the nation's powerful forces – generally considered supporters of the government – recognize Maduro as the true president of Venezuela.
But at least for the time being, Guaidó is breathing new life into an opposition movement that has been deeply demoralized by internal power struggles and government repression.
"Thirty days ago, the opposition was demobilized and broken without leadership," said Michael Penfold, a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scientists in Washington. "But that's no longer the case, Guaidó is a glimmer of hope."
"I think Guaidó delivers exactly what the opposition wanted at the time, which is a bold, risky reaction," said Javier Corrales Venezuela expert and political science professor at Amherst College.
Guaidó, a youthful-looking industrial engineer, began politics when he organized student protests against the late Hugo Chávez, who ushered in Venezuela's socialist revolution two decades ago. In 2013, Chávez died of cancer and was replaced by Maduro.
As a member of the Popular Will Party, Guaidó won a seat in the 2015 National Assembly – the Venezuelan National Assembly – in the midst of an oppositional election to the congressional elections. But this momentum quickly came to a standstill.
Demonstrations against the government were crushed by security forces, while an attempt to remove Maduro by recall elections was rejected by the government. The most charismatic opposition leaders were arrested, forced into exile or deprived of their right to public office. Last year, Maduro won another six-year term in presidential elections, widely regarded by international observers as a fraud.
Nevertheless, the opposition was determined to challenge Maduro's influence over power. There was a bold plan for the beginning of this month, which many see as Maduro's unlawful second term. Guaidó became the leader.
Partly because more prominent politicians were marginalized, the National Assembly appointed Guaidó president in early January. The Venezuelan Constitution states that the head of the National Assembly will assume office if the presidency becomes free, as the opposition under Maduro claims.
After listening to American and Latin American officials, the opposition organized nationwide street marches on Wednesday, organizing an outside ceremony where Guaidó took the oath of office and launched his parallel government, according to the Associated Press.
. In his opening speech, Guaidó called on military officials to withdraw their support from Maduro.
"It must be the Venezuelan people, the armed forces and the international community that allow us to take power that we do not want to miss," Guaidó said in a speech that corresponded to his opening speech.
At least one high-ranking military official, Colonel José Luis Silva, serving as military attaché to the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, has acknowledged Guaidó's call. "As a Venezuelan defense attaché in the United States, I do not recognize Mr Nicolás Maduro as President of Venezuela," Silva said on Saturday in an interview with El Nuevo Herald .
Guaidó has no control over government ministries, but he is more than just a figurehead. Analysts say that increasing international support for him along with Maduro's diplomatic isolation strengthens Guaidó's claim to the presidency.
Frank Mora, who heads Florida International University's Latin America and Caribbean Center, said Guaidó's swearing-in could be a watershed, similar to what happened in Tunisia in 2010, when a furious fruit merchant set himself on fire and contributed to the inflammation of the Arab Spring ,
An alternative leadership in Caracas has also opened the door for the Trump government to push the important flow of petrodollars for the Maduro government – which pays 95 percent of its export earnings with oil.
One option would be to transfer proceeds from the purchase of oil from Venezuela to foreign accounts that could be set up and controlled by Guaidó's government team, said Francisco Rodríguez, a former economic adviser to the National Assembly of Venezuela. He said that diverting oil money to Guaidó would "heavily influence" the Venezuelan economy, putting Maduro under more pressure to leave office.
"The pieces are beginning to fit together for a peaceful transition in Venezuela," said Benjamin Sharifker, a leading Venezuelan intellectual and opposition activist.
But also Guaidó faces new risks.
Earlier this month, he was briefly arrested by security forces, and he feared he might be arrested. At the rally on Friday Guaidó recognized this possibility, but informed the followers that if he was abducted, he should promote non-violent protests.