Juan Guaido: Venezuela’s self-declared leader may struggle to stay free

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We crossed town on motorbikes, weaving through heavy traffic, heading for a square in eastern Caracas where it was said the opposition’s pin-up boy and recently proclaimed interim president, Juan Guaido, was expected to appear.

He has been in hiding since his announcement in front of hundreds of thousands of people who had streamed into the capital on Wednesday for a day of protest against the government of Nicolas Maduro.

In the square, where coincidentally we were shot at by national police during violent anti-government protests two years ago, we came across hundreds of eager and expectant supporters baking in the sunshine.

They sang the national anthem amid chants of “Freedom!”, urging their leader to join them.

Guaido’s people are convinced the security services will arrest him, if they can get to him.

Whispers that he had arrived at the church that dominates the square turned into clapping and shouting of “President!”.

If he didn’t expect it he knows now that wherever he goes he will be mobbed.

The church door opened and he stepped out into the arms of hundreds at the top of the square, his bodyguards trying to push their man through to the front of the crowd on steps above the square.

When they caught sight of him, the square erupted; men and women virtually in tears screamed with joy, jumping up and down, calling out his name.

They greeted his promises of change and continued street protests with shouts of “Yes we can”.

He called for elections, for the military to join them and for Maduro to step down.

He said the government had underestimated the will of the people and their will to keep fighting.

“They think this movement will deflate, that we will grow tired,” he said to cheers of support.

“Nobody here will tire, nobody will give in. Venezuela has awoken and it will never fall asleep again,” he said.

He listed the countries who recognise him and the opposition government as legitimate representatives of the country.

He reached out to Russia and China, who do not, saying they will still play a part in the future.

Both countries have heavily invested in Venezuela and loaned Maduro billions of dollars.

Surrounded by his supporters it felt like Guaido was sending a message to Maduro and his security services: If you want me come and get me.

This is a distinct possibility. He is such an outspoken critic of the Maduro regime it is remarkable he is still at liberty to talk to anyone.

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His supporters are lapping up the 35-year-old’s promises of change here and they want it immediately.

“I am sure he is the right man and I am sure that the change is almost here,” one man told me.

Another woman listening in to our conversation added: “What you have to realise is that the Maduro government isn’t legitimate, it’s actually illegal and has been from the start.”

Guaido is now the focus of so much expectation here. From relative political obscurity he has, for some, become the living embodiment of a dream.

His departure from the rally was as chaotic as his arrival. He was mobbed from all sides as he struggled to make it to the street and a waiting motorcycle that whisked him away, back into hiding.

He is still free to lead the opposition and the supporters who slowly drifted away from the square.

Staying free maybe one of his hardest jobs.

(c) Sky News 2019: Juan Guaido: Venezuela’s self-declared leader may struggle to stay free

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