One on One With Juan Pablo Guanipa

Zulia’s Governor-Denied sat down with Caracas Chronicles to sketch out how Venezuela got to this point, and what to do faced with a rigged presidential election.

Photos: Gabriel Méndez

At a time when our political leadership is plumbing its lowest approval ratings ever, we often ponder which political leaders could be considered trustworthy now. To me, Juan Pablo Guanipa heads this list: a prudent, mature, no-nonsense leader, who has an interesting message for the country.

Juan Pablo Guanipa talks to Carlos García Soto
Juan Pablo Guanipa talks to Carlos García Soto

Last Tuesday, we sat down for a wideranging talk with him. He defines himself as a husband and a father (he has five children); he’s a lawyer with studies in politics and public management, social communicator, columnist and host in radio and TV shows, university teacher in URBE and LUZ, political leader. He’s also deeply gaitero, like any good maracucho. He was reported to be considering run in presidential elections in 2018, but he’s now focused on the defense of democracy in Venezuela.

“I’ve been involved in politics my entire life”

Juan Pablo Guanipa has more than three decades of experience in Venezuela’s political-partisan stage. Juan Pablo and his brother Tomás Guanipa, both from Primero Justicia, are two of the seven children of Manuel Guanipa Matos, a former lawmaker of the National Congress who worked for the establishment and consolidation of COPEI in Zulia. A few weeks after his death, lawmaker José Rodríguez Iturbe said that Manuel Guanipa Matos was “a man like rock crystal; with the strength and transparency of rock crystal, and he taught us a noble lesson, the lesson of loyalty, of firmness and perseverance.” Juan Pablo Guanipa tells us, with a son’s pride, that his father’s work contributed to COPEI’s considerable popularity in the region. The party was so popular that in presidential elections in 1973, Zulia was the only state where AD’s Carlos Andrés Pérez lost and COPEI’s Lorenzo Fernández won.

Juan Pablo used to accompany his father in tours through various areas of Zulia and he soon started to fall in love with politics. He started working in Caldera’s presidential campaign in 1983, until COPEI’s internal constituent process in 1999. He later joined his current party, Primero Justicia. Halfway through the 90s, he held his first elected public office as lawmaker of Zulia’s Legislative Assembly. Between 2000 and 2005, he was an alternate lawmaker of the National Assembly; between 2005 and 2013, he was a councilman of Maracaibo municipality; and in December 2015, he was elected a lawmaker of the current National Assembly for Zulia.

As, as you might recall, he was elected governor of Zulia on October 10, 2017, but he chose not to be inducted by the ANC and he was barred from taking office. We confess we had our doubts as to which was the right choice for Juan Pablo. Time proved him right.

“If people ask what’s my political experience, I’d have to tell them that it’s essentially the Church’s Social Doctrine. Regarding solutions to society’s problems, I believe that the Church is quite focused and that its Doctrine is very clear. It’s a kind of third way between exaggerated capitalism and absolutely unviable communism.”

“The Dominican Republic was an important effort”

Without saying names, Juan Pablo criticizes opposition leaders who “refuse everything, struggle with everything, never propose anything and then hope for failure just to say ‘I told you so’.”

By contrast, and after reflecting on the country’s severe crisis, he says that he “hoped that we’d triumph in negotiations in the Dominican Republic. What else can we hope for if not the necessary conditions to be able to produce the change that the country needs?”

Juan Pablo points out that in the Dominican Republic, they tried to reach an agreement for a more impartial CNE and a date for presidential elections in the second half of 2018. He also thinks that preparing a presidential campaign would take a minimum of four months.

“We want elections as a means of electing”

On Tuesday, February 20 at noon, Primero Justicia said that they wouldn’t run on presidential elections in April 22.

Juan Pablo remarks: “It’s not that we don’t want to participate. On the contrary, we want to go to elections, we want to choose a new President of the Republic. We think that the vote is the most important tool that a country can have to make its decisions […] But we can’t legitimate a president like Maduro who wants to hold a fake electoral process to try and justify a democracy he doesn’t believe in, to cling to power without votes. That’s unacceptable.”

At the crossroads

Juan Pablo Guanipa knows that the risk of not running in presidential elections in April 22 is the opposition’s paralysis. However, he thinks that the demands presented in the Dominican Republic can’t be forgotten and thus, he says they’re making progress on a plan that includes:

  1. The -already ongoing- creation of the Broad Fighting Front: a project parallel to MUD and formed by MUD parties as well as representatives of all sectors of civil society -universities, unions, business owners, churches, students, among others-.
  2. The creation of an Executive Command to carry out the Front’s decisions, so that the eventual bureaucratic hurdles of such a broad group don’t paralyze action.
  3. Pressure actions advanced by the Front, including assemblies and protests – ”a constitutional right we can’t give up.”

“We have the obligation to find ourselves, to stand next to and motivate the people”

I think Juan Pablo has an interesting message for the country: he’s talking not only to the government, but to the opposition as well. To conclude, Juan Pablo decided to urge the national leadership: “I think that the current leadership must unite, because we’ve made many decisions on our own… we must break that loop. We must tour the country together, we must listen to people’s problems, try to understand them and accompany them to revitalize hope.”

Something Juan Pablo Guanipa has been doing for many years under the scorching Zulian sun.