‘My son shines for Venezuela, and that’s a dangerous thing’
In an exclusive interview, the father of opposition leader Juan Guaidó talks about his meteoric rise to power
When Juan Guaidó was 15 years old a devastating flash flood hit his home province of Vargas. It was then that the man anointed Venezuela’s interim president first showed the leadership qualities that have driven his quest to topple Nicolás Maduro, his father says.
”He organised everyone and kept the family calm and they all escaped,” said Wilmer Guaidó, a 60-year-old taxi driver who fled his homeland for Tenerife in Spain in 2003. About 20,000 people died in the 1999 flood and seeing such tragedy changed Juan, his father believes.
“He began to think that things needed to change; he couldn’t accept that so many people had to suffer so much [under Hugo Chávez],” he said.
Twenty years later, Juan Guaidó may soon have the chance to deliver that change himself. The incumbent Maduro triumphed in Venezuela’s presidential elections in May 2018. However, his win was condemned as a “show election” after he banned opposition parties from running and was accused of electoral fraud.
On Monday, several European countries, including the UK and Spain, recognised 35-year-old Guaidó as the interim president after Maduro refused to hold fresh elections. In Tenerife, Wilmer has been whipping up support, giving an impassioned speech to thousands of exiled Venezuelans in Santa Cruz de Tenerife on Saturday.
Officially there are 208,333 Venezuelans in Spain, and Wilmer, who makes a living driving British tourists to and from Tenerife’s airport, has become a well-known figure in the community. But he will quit his job and move back to Venezuela if his son holds on to power. “I only left because of the government and the insecurity,” he said.
While Wilmer believes Juan can return Venezuela to the prosperity the oil-rich nation used to enjoy, it has not been easy watching from abroad. The father of five is concerned for the safety of his son, daughter-in law Fabiana, and 20-month-old granddaughter Miranda. Juan has already been subject to a travel ban but members of the feared secret police recently attempted to interrogate his wife at his house while he was out campaigning.
“I’m worried about him,” Wilmer said. “He thinks differently to Maduro – that’s a dangerous thing to do in Venezuela. I try not to think too much about the threats against Juan. It’s a political problem – his family and in particular his baby should not be intimidated and terrorised.”
Juan’s meteoric rise through Venezuelan politics has helped toughen his skin. As an undergraduate engineer, he made a name for himself by successfully organising a string of student protests against the authoritarian Chávez regime. His activism brought him to the attention of Leopoldo López, a critic of the previous president, and the pair set up the social-democratic Popular Will party.
Shortly after becoming the federal deputy for Vargas in 2016, he was shot in the neck by rubber bullets while demonstrating against the current Maduro leadership. On Saturday he took to the streets again alongside tens of thousands of protesters in Caracas.
“I’m really proud of him,” said Wilmer. “Wouldn’t you be if he was your son? Juan believes in democracy, freedom and human rights. He believes in Venezuela.”
As the interview drew to a close, Wilmer remembered the last time his son visited Tenerife, as a 17-year-old. “He enjoyed complete peace here. He told me that it was exactly what politicians in Venezuela needed to replicate – a place where everyone was free to enjoy their country.”
– © The Daily Telegraph