Venezuela’s opposition leader failed to depose Maduro. He explains why he’s not giving up.

President Donald Trump may be losing faith in Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, but Guaidó doesn’t seem to have lost faith in the country Trump leads.

“We sense a firm commitment from the United States,” Venezuela’s self-declared interim president told me on Wednesday. “I think they’re doing everything they could be doing under these circumstances.”

On Friday, Bloomberg reported that Trump isn’t sure Guaidó is the man who can dislodge dictator Nicolás Maduro from power. The US may now be considering other options, including siding with Russia to work on a transition plan or pressuring Cuba, Maduro’s key backer.

It’s another setback for Guaidó who has led the Venezuelan opposition movement to kick Maduro out of office since January. In recent weeks he’s been plagued with problem after problem, including a corruption scandal opening a rift within his own party, and declining poll numbers that show the public may not be as firmly behind him as it once was.

It’s also possible that his party may lose a key legislative vote on January 5, 2020, that could see Guaidó lose his leadership of Venezuela’s National Assembly, which would also cause him to lose the title of interim president.

But to hear Guaidó tell it, the opposition he leads is in a better place today than it was almost a year ago. “Back then we didn’t have multiple countries recognizing and supporting us,” he told me in that interview earlier this week, before the Bloomberg story came out. “The opposition to Maduro wasn’t as united. There wasn’t as much financial pressure on the dictator and his cronies. And there wasn’t as much public support for wanting Maduro gone.”

In our roughly 20-minute conversation, Guaidó continued to defy the pressure Maduro’s allies have put him under, telling me he believes his is still the right fight heading into the new year.

Our conversation, translated from Spanish and edited for length and clarity, is below.

Alex Ward

It’s been nearly a year since you declared yourself the rightful president and began working to oust Maduro from power. How are you feeling after all this time? It must be tough having to move from safe house to safe house and even bathing using buckets of water.

Juan Guaidó

This complex humanitarian crisis persists, and Maduro’s coup continues. We remain worried for our people, who are basically forced to migrate out of the country and are dealing with horrid health conditions. There’s food and water insecurity in many areas.

And so this is a difficult situation for Venezuelans who for years have had to deal with a brutal dictatorship.

But I believe our opposition has only grown stronger. We have an international coalition backing us, support for our cause in the National Assembly, and thousands continue to take to the street. We can’t give up the fight now.

Alex Ward

Will you still have the necessary votes to remain in power on January 5, 2020? As you know, if your party loses, you may no longer be the interim president.

Juan Guaidó

We will have those votes, despite the fact that Maduro continues to harass and jail members of our opposition. They’re persecuting and killing people — but we will overcome all of this.

Alex Ward

Critics say that they notice a fracturing in the opposition that you lead. Some in the National Assembly are openly defying you, and certain factions have requested you pursue a different course.

Juan Guaidó

The opposition is formed by multiple parties and over 200 members of the National Assembly. Of course, the dictatorship is going to try and extend its tentacles into the National Assembly to ruin our cause, but so far it has been unsuccessful at derailing us. We continue to expect Maduro and his cronies to do whatever it takes to thwart us.

Alex Ward

Are those Maduro efforts working? In February, you had a roughly 60 percent approval rating, but now you’re at 42 percent, according to one poll, and at 10 percent in another. Is it possible that Venezuelans are starting to lose faith in your ability to lead the opposition one year into your efforts?

Juan Guaidó

Today, that number rose to 45 percent, based on a poll we have. But we continue to have immense support for removing the dictator and having a free and fair election. People care most about how to solve the crisis and the conflict, and the dictatorship still won’t let that happen.

There isn’t a fight for power here, Alex, and this is important. This isn’t a polarized country. Everyone is united in wanting to live with dignity, with clean water, with light, and to be able to support our families. There are over 1 million children living without their parents because they had to go to another country to make subsistence money.

A poll may show that I’m around 45 percent, but Maduro is only at about 10 percent. That’s a dramatic difference, and remember that we started from scratch. So 45 percent support, with that context, actually sounds quite good.

Alex Ward

And yet you’re aware you have critics saying that perhaps after a year you may not be the man to lead this movement anymore. Do you believe you’re still that man?

Juan Guaidó

You assume leadership. It’s a nontransferable role.

That’s exactly why we want presidential elections, so the public can freely choose who it wants to lead them. But to do that we first have to remove this dictatorship. After that Venezuelans will be able to make their own choice.

That said, with my around 45 percent approval, I’m already well above the dictator.

Alex Ward

To be clear, the new elections can’t happen until Maduro is gone? Or can the elections be held while he still has power and remains in his presidential mansion?

Juan Guaidó

For there to be a free and fair election, we need to make sure that it can be truly competitive with international observers. There can’t be a dictator with any power for that to happen.

Alex Ward

So Maduro can’t remain in power in his presidential mansion during elections, then?

Juan Guaidó

No.

Alex Ward

And you’re going to be a candidate for president, right?

Juan Guaidó

First there have to be elections, and at that moment I’ll make a decision. What will happen is that our party will have just one leading candidate when we get the chance.

Alex Ward

Again, to be clear, first Maduro has to go before holding elections, and only when elections are announced will you make a decision about running yourself?

Juan Guaidó

That’s right.

Alex Ward

To get to that point, of course, you’re going to need outside help. The United States to date has been a major supporter of your efforts, but there are reports showing that President Donald Trump has started to lose interest in what’s happening in Venezuela and perhaps even faith in you.

Is that your experience in talks with Americans, and are you worried about a less attentive and interested US?

Juan Guaidó

We sense a firm commitment from the United States.

Alex Ward

Would you like to see even more support?

Juan Guaidó

I think they’re doing everything they could be doing under these circumstances, as are Colombia and Brazil. They have all been helpful in trying to end this tragedy.

Alex Ward

Do you need military support more now than you did in the past?

Juan Guaidó

We have all the help we need to overcome this crisis. But we know we’re facing a dictatorship that benefits from drug trafficking, funding violent movements against us and neighboring countries, and much more. The Venezuelan people and others in this region are suffering because of that.

Maduro is a danger, and we need to evaluate all options to get out of this. Are we closer or further away from needing to use military forces against him and his allies? Well, we need to look at that on a day-to-day basis.

Alex Ward

So you don’t feel you need military support more today than you did before?

Juan Guaidó

We need all the help possible. As you know, this is a polemical issue and there’s no way to maintain a diplomatic stance when discussing such an issue. So I want to stay positive, and note that we will use whatever is necessary to overcome this tragedy.

Alex Ward

If the US came to you and said, “We’re willing to provide weapons and armor,” would you accept it?

Juan Guaidó

Arming everyday Venezuelans would be absurd. What’s more important is placing more pressure on Maduro to dislodge him.

Alex Ward

Are you worried, though, that you’ve lost momentum after a year of trying to remove Maduro? The dropping poll numbers and fewer people at rallies would seem to indicate that. Plus, Maduro is still in his presidential mansion.

Juan Guaidó

Look, we’re facing an unscrupulous dictatorship. Maduro’s supporters have assassinated and jailed their opponents, including top members of my own team. A few opposition members have had to leave the country for their own safety.

They even close down buildings or take away vehicles that we use to slow us down. This was never going to be a quick or easy process.

It doesn’t help that Venezuela’s armed forces still haven’t completely abandoned the dictator. We’ve had some success there, but we still have a bit to go to ensure Maduro loses the support of the military.

Alex Ward

Do you need a new strategy to remove Maduro, then, or do you plan to stay the course?

Juan Guaidó

The biggest question is how to increase the pressure. It’s up to us to figure out how to do that while we’re being politically persecuted and locked up. The citizenry, of course, will continue to protest.

Alex Ward

How would you answer your own question? How do you augment the pressure?

Juan Guaidó

Reconvene those that oppose Maduro and realign our efforts against him. Venezuelans have shown time and time again that they’re not scared of speaking out against this dictatorship, and they need to continue to do so regardless of how hard it is or how long it takes.

It’s like leaving your house, and the second you do the police beats you. It’s hard to fight against that, but you have to. We want people to keep protesting despite the danger doing so poses.

Alex Ward

Are you closer today to removing Maduro than you were back in January?

Juan Guaidó

Absolutely. Back then we didn’t have multiple countries recognizing and supporting us. The opposition to Maduro wasn’t as united. There wasn’t as much financial pressure on the dictator and his cronies. And there wasn’t as much public support for wanting Maduro gone. Today, we have way more tools at our disposal than we did one year ago.

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