A Symptom of Venezuela's Political Climate

After the opposition leader was the victim of a violent aggression after an event in Cojedes on June 11th, he got more support from abroad than from his domestic allies

Juan Guaidó was punched, pushed, and insulted on Saturday, June 11th, while visiting the city of San Carlos, capital of Cojedes, a former chavista stronghold currently ruled by opposition governor Alberto Galíndez. This attack on the man that was recognized as Venezuela’s caretaker president by more than 60 countries and the entire opposition, showcased the three main features of his position at this moment: he’s the main target of the Maduro regime; the support he has from the parties and the international community is more discrete; and his own credibility among the population, even when he suffers violence against him, is dimming.

What happened?

That morning, Juan Guaidó was taking part in a tour in San Carlos. Visiting that city was one of many activities the opposition is doing in the regions to promote their strategy for the presidential elections that are supposed to happen in 2024. In fact, Guaidó wasn’t the only one on tour: Carlos Prosperi, from Acción Democrática, and Juan Pablo Guanipa, from Primero Justicia, were in Anzoátegui and Barinas, respectively. Only Guaidó experienced violence.

After completing his route through San Carlos, Guaidó was having lunch at a restaurant with Voluntad Popular members when, as you can see in the videos on social media, several people tried to access the place shouting “get out Guaidó” and hitting the windows. Once inside, they pushed Guaidó out while hitting him. Unable to defend himself and without a security detail, the opposition leader left the place with a ripped-out shirt and some bruises.

Other images published by Guaidó’s team show bullet holes in the armored car he was traveling in.

Who attacked him?

According to the version by Guaidó’s communications team, the attack was coordinated by Nosliw Rodríguez and Marcos Mendoza, chavista lawmakers elected to the National Assembly (AN) in 2020 to represent Cojedes. Rodríguez, 33 years old, had to leave the AN when she ran for the governorship in the regional elections of 2021, where she was defeated by Alberto Galíndez.

In the videos we can see how Rodríguez and Mendoza  were leading the storming of the restaurant, making their people shout “asesino” and “traidor”.

In 2017, when she was already a deputy in the AN, Rodríguez said the opposition was “organized crime”. That same year, according to NGO Transparencia Venezuela, she didn’t attend 79% of sessions, which by the time had an opposition majority.

What did the Maduro regime say?

After the attack, chavismo used its propaganda machine to spread the version that Guaidó’s aggressors were people from his former party, Voluntad Popular. This time, for a change, the narrative didn’t come from the high ranks of PSUV but through public media and pro-regime journalists.

“Opposition militants face and expel Guaidó from an assembly in Cojedes,” tweeted the state-owned Agencia Venezolana  de Noticias. Madelein García, a reporter for propaganda outlet TeleSur, used the same version and said that the “trial” of Guaidó would be done by the people. “The worst sentence is despisal,” she tweeted. Cazadores de Fake News, a fact-checking account, denounced this as misleading.

But chavismo mobilized its international tentacles as well. By analyzing 81,052 retweets with the word “Guaidó”; Cazadores de Fake News found that pro-chavista accounts in Venezuela (25.28% of interactions), the U.S. (7.91%), Mexico (7.74%), and Cuba (3.85%) worked as a team to spread the versions against Guaidó. The opposition that is critical of Guaidó amplified the chavista narrative about the nature of the attack (6.48% of interactions), and some accounts in Turkey, writing in Turkish, tweeted against Guaidó as well (4.7% of interactions).

Chavismo has a long history of making organized attacks look like spontaneous displays of popular anger. On June 4th, in the Barrio Cuatricentenario in Maracaibo, chavista groups attacked Guaidó’s followers—according to the opposition—with a rain of plastic chairs. “Guaidó triggers some passions,” tweeted an always ironic Jorge Rodríguez. Diosdado Cabello showed the video in his show Con el Mazo Dando, adding background music and the traditional editings to make Guaidó look ridiculous.

How did the opposition react?

Speed isn’t precisely a skill of Plataforma Unitaria Democrática (PUEDE), where at least ten parties must agree to issue any statement on anything. It was the following Sunday, almost 24 hours after the attack, when the coalition formed by Acción Democrática, Primero Justicia, Un Nuevo Tiempo, Voluntad Popular, and other parties expressed solidarity with Guaidó.

In the statement, where Guaidó was called “presidente encargado de Venezuela”—even if some parties no longer recognize him as such—the coalition blamed the “oppressive regime” that “unrules Venezuela”. This is not the unanimous support Guaidó received in similar episodes in 2019, but an easy exit for some politicians in the unitary platform to avoid individual shows of support. Actually, the only people who step out to defend Guaidó were mostly among the ones who still support the continuation of the political structure that insists on calling itself a caretaker government.

Delsa Solórzano, founder of new party Encuentro Ciudadano, close to Guaidó, and Andrés Velásquez, from Causa R, were the first ones to show public support. After them came Juan Pablo Guanipa, one of the few leaders in PJ who openly supports the caretaker government nowadays.

Among those who don’t support the figure of the caretaker government—at least in theory, because their parties still consider the AN elected in 2015 legitimate and functioning, which is the source of such a government—only Henrique Capriles expressed solidarity with Guaidó, on Twitter, on Monday June 13th. Julio Borges, PJ national coordinator, just retweeted the PUEDE statement. Henry Ramos Allup (Acción Democrática) and María Corina Machado (Vente, not part of PUEDE and usually hard on Guaidó), said nothing.

Recognizing or not the continuation of the caretaker government isn’t the only issue here. Defending Guaidó could mean facing reprisals from the regime, and some people in the opposition now have something to lose. That’s the case of Zulia governor Manuel Rosales, who wants to be the opposition’s next presidential candidate (once again) and Alberto Galíndez, the governor of the state where the incident took place. None of them said a word on what happened to the leader from La Guaira. Maybe they were remembering what Maduro said in April, that he could still appoint “protectors” to rule Zulia instead of Rosales, the governor elected by the people. Ending the practice of appointing such protectors when the opposition wins in a state was promised by chavismo in the Mexico talks, but chavismo can always roll back on its promises, and Rosales and Galíndez know it.

What did the international community say?

As in the Venezuelan opposition coalition, only the closest allies of Guaidó showed support. They are powerful states, the U.S., Brazil, and Canada, but it’s way less than the global acclaim once enjoyed by the caretaker president. 

The U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken insisted on sharing the Biden administration’s concern for what they see as a violent escalation against democratic actors in Venezuela. Not at all the threatening tone of the previous American government. OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro condemned the attack. The leftist governments in Chile, Peru, Bolivia, and Mexico said nothing. Even the European Union—which ceased to call Guaidó a caretaker president when the National Assembly he was elected to (and where he was the Speaker) was replaced in 2020—remained silent.

Who’s telling the truth?

Even though thousands of users supported Guaidó on social media, many people bought the chavista version of the “spontaneous” attack. Even when it became clear that it was a coordinated chavista attack, many users from the opposition were still justifying the violence, arguing that Guaidó “sold himself” to the regime.

“This is happening to you because even when we trusted you, you opted to negotiate with Maduro and refused a military intervention (by the U.S.),” said a user in a comment with more than 50 likes. “Nobody believes in you any more, vendepatria,” said another one.