Photo: El Universo, retrieved.
Last January 5th, when he became the speaker of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó began to trace the route that can lead to the (re)encounter of institutionality in Venezuela.
He’s not the typical Venezuelan politician who hides behind the facade of the know-it-all, shouting passionately into the microphone. On the contrary, he represents a dramatic change regarding the first speaker of the opposition-controlled parliament, old-school, flamboyant Henry Ramos Allup. Guaidó’s speeches are like a serene chat with you. He has forsaken the typical casual shirt-and-cap outfit that tries to project an “I am the same as you” message, going instead for suits, symbolizing the parliamentarian he is. His is an effort to remind you that a politician is a public servant, not your boss.
He also knows his task is to channel the people’s demand and using his political capital within a strategy. The pattern of demonstrations without clear objectives that end up in repression is simply not there; instead, he started calling for cabildos, a much more civil way of protest, where people communicate directly with the political leader. In the next phase, he has opted for demonstrations around specific messages that tend to be over in a few hours.
The power of this in the country to come cannot be overstated. The way in which a nation remembers its history influences its people’s perception of reality, their conception of the world, and the way they choose their leaders, because it provides a meaning to the present. “There are pasts that don’t go, the Venezuelan past is one of them,” begins Ana Teresa Torres her essay La herencia de la tribu (The Heritage of the Tribe). We’ve been submerged in a perpetual search for freedom, always looking for someone embodying Bolívar to free us from calamity.That’s the novelty with Guaidó: he managed to cement his political strategy with constitutional legitimacy and parliamentary action, communicating to Venezuelans the value of real public powers. What people saw as bureaucracy is now synonymous with legality and legitimacy. The usurpation of power, the humanitarian aid, and the guarantees to the FAN (the Amnesty Law), all went through the AN. Institutionality at its finest.
But the messianic leader, the caudillo, always puts aside the fundamental thing in a democracy: institutions. In the name of the victimized, civility usually means collective irresponsibility.
The republican history of Venezuela has been plagued by politicians who use the independentist imaginary to pose as a champion of the weak and the herald of a new idealized era. But the messianic leader, the caudillo, always puts aside the fundamental thing in a democracy: institutions. In the name of the victimized, civility usually means collective irresponsibility. Chávez is the perfect example, but not the only one.
The message Guaidó transmits is not of the messiah, he’s just embodying the institution for which most of the citizens voted in 2015. He’s just doing his job, very clearly a subject of law, not its master, and although there are shirts being sold right now with the “I am Guaidó” phrase (speaking volumes of who we are as people and how we approach our leaders) the man himself doesn’t work to be the charismatic strongman accepted in Venezuelan subjectivity.
Only time will tell if he’s up to the circumstances, but if so, he can become the one that marked the milestone of the re-encounter (or discovery?) of Venezuelans with institutionality, so necessary after decades of convenient institutions for the powerful.