The opposition figurehead now widely recognized as Venezuela’s legitimate interim president has urged demonstrators to continue their quest to unseat Nicolás Maduro and the “wretches” around him with fresh protests next week.
Addressing a packed auditorium at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas, Juan Guaidó claimed it was only a matter of time before Maduro’s regime collapsed.
“They are already defeated,” Guaidó said, calling another round of nationwide demonstrations for next Tuesday. “Today, our only enemy is despair. Today, our only enemy is doubt. Today, our only enemy is fear.
“We will keep going until we achieve our objective,” vowed the 35-year-old politician who is now recognized by more than 40 countries including the United States, Canada, Brazil, Britain, France and Germany. “Each day they are more alone and isolated,” Guaidó said of Maduro’s administration. “And each day more people join our cause.”
Before Guaidó took to the stage to address the 2,700-seat auditorium, a succession of opposition and student leaders gave impassioned speeches calling for unity and change.
“Venezuela is ours and we are going to recover it!” roared Miguel Pizarro, a lawmaker from the opposition Primero Justicia (Justice First) party.
Rafaela Requesens, a student leader whose politician brother was jailed last year following an attempted drone attack on Maduro, said: “For the first time in more than 20 years we can see light at the end of the tunnel.”
“Many people are asking when this government will fall. Ladies and gentleman, this regime has already started to fall … there is no going back.”
Despite a widespread sense that Maduro’s six-year rule is in its death throes, his opponents have spent this week tempering expectations that his exit is imminent.
Juan Andrés Mejía, a close Guaidó ally, told the Guardian: “We are trying pretty hard to make people understand that even though we want it to be very soon – and it could be – we don’t know for sure. It could take weeks, maybe months. We have to be prepared and organised for that.”
Maryhen Jiménez Morales, an Oxford University Venezuela specialist, said Guaidó – who sparked the current crisis by declaring himself the country’s rightful president on 23 January – faced a delicate balancing act.
“He needs to mobilize the people and make them believe this is going to happen – otherwise they won’t protest and they won’t risk their lives … [But the opposition also knows] it might not happen – because it is possible that at the end of the day Maduro survives this crisis.”
Maduro, who was narrowly elected following Hugo Chávez’s 2013 death and again last May in widely disputed elections, has shown no sign of budging.
Addressing reporters at the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas – which he continues to occupy – Chávez’s embattled heir claimed he led a legitimate, democratically elected government.
Maduro slammed attempts by the opposition and the US to bring humanitarian aid into his crisis-stricken nation as a hostile conspiracy designed to remove him from power.
“It’s a rotten gift. It is a deceitful package, filled with the poison of humiliation,” Maduro said. “They aren’t giving us anything – they are robbing us.”
Maduro’s latest show of strength was undermined when the lights went out mid-press conference, temporarily plunging his 19th-century palace into darkness.
Additional reporting by Patricia Torres in Caracas