is the product of a decade-long project overseen by
By Dan Cohen and Max Blumenthal
Before the fateful day of
January 22, fewer than one in five Venezuelans had heard of Juan Guaidó.
Only a few months ago, the 35-year-old was an obscure character in a
politically marginal far-right group closely associated with gruesome acts of
street violence. Even in his own party, Guaidó had
been a mid-level figure in the opposition-dominated National Assembly, which is
now held under contempt according to
But after a single phone call
from from US Vice President Mike Pence, Guaidó proclaimed himself president of
seemed to have materialized out of nowhere, he was, in fact, the product of
more than a decade of assiduous grooming by the
“Juan Guaidó is a character that has been created for this circumstance,” Marco Teruggi, an Argentinian sociologist and leading chronicler of Venezuelan politics, told The Grayzone. “It’s the logic of a laboratory – Guaidó is like a mixture of several elements that create a character who, in all honesty, oscillates between laughable and worrying.”
a Venezuelan journalist and writer for the investigative outlet Misión Verdad, agreed: “Guaidó is more popular outside
is today sold as the face of democratic restoration, he spent his career in the
most violent faction of
“‘These radical leaders have
no more than 20 percent in opinion polls,” wrote Luis Vicente León,
But this is precisely why Guaidó was selected by
Targeting the “troika of tyranny”
Since the 1998 election of
Hugo Chávez, the
The Trump administration
According to the Venezuelan
government, the US was also involved in a plot, codenamed Operation
Constitution, to capture Maduro at the Miraflores presidential palace; and another, called Operation Armageddon, to assassinate him at a military parade in July
2017. Just over a year later, exiled opposition leaders tried and failed to kill Maduro with drone bombs during a military parade in
More than a decade before
these intrigues, a group of right-wing opposition students were hand-selected
and groomed by an elite US-funded regime change training academy to topple
Training from the “‘export-a-revolution’ group that sowed the seeds for a NUMBER of color revolutions”
The students had arrived from
CANVAS is a spinoff of Otpor, a Serbian
protest group founded by Srdja Popovic in 1998 at the
This small cell of regime
change specialists was operating according to the theories of the late Gene
Sharp, the so-called “Clausewitz of non-violent
struggle.” Sharp had worked with a former Defense
Intelligence Agency analyst, Col. Robert Helvey, to conceive a strategic blueprint that weaponized protest as a form of hybrid warfare, aiming it
at states that resisted
Otpor at the 1998 MTV
supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, USAID, and Sharp’s Albert
Einstein Institute. Sinisa Sikman,
one of Otpor’s main trainers, once said the group even received direct
According to a leaked email from a Stratfor staffer,
after running Milosevic out of power, “the kids who
ran OTPOR grew up, got suits and designed CANVAS… or in other words a
‘export-a-revolution’ group that sowed the seeds for a NUMBER of color revolutions. They are still hooked into
that CANVAS “turned its attention to
While monitoring the CANVAS
training program, Stratfor outlined its
insurrectionist agenda in strikingly blunt language: “Success is by no means
guaranteed, and student movements are only at the beginning of what could be a
years-long effort to trigger a revolution in
Birthing the “Generation 2007” regime change cadre
The “real work” began two
years later, in 2007, when Guaidó graduated from Andrés Bello Catholic University
of Caracas. He moved to
That year, Guaidó helped lead anti-government rallies after the Venezuelan government declined to to renew the license of Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV). This privately owned station played a leading role in the 2002 coup against Hugo Chávez. RCTV helped mobilize anti-government demonstrators, falsified information blaming government supporters for acts of violence carried out by opposition members, and banned pro-government reporting amid the coup. The role of RCTV and other oligarch-owned stations in driving the failed coup attempt was chronicled in the acclaimed documentary The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.
That same year, the students claimed credit for stymying Chavez’s constitutional referendum for a “21st century socialism” that promised “to set the legal framework for the political and social reorganization of the country, giving direct power to organized communities as a prerequisite for the development of a new economic system.”
From the protests around RCTV and the referendum, a specialized cadre of US-backed class of regime change activists was born. They called themselves “Generation 2007.”
The Stratfor and CANVAS trainers of this cell identified Guaidó’s ally – a libertarian political organizer named Yon Goicoechea – as a “key factor” in defeating the constitutional referendum. The following year, Goicochea was rewarded for his efforts with the Cato Institute’s Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty, along with a $500,000 prize, which he promptly invested into his political network.
Friedman, of course, was the
godfather of the notorious neoliberal Chicago Boys
who were imported into
Wikileaks published a 2007 email from American ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield sent to the State Department, National Security Council and Department of Defense Southern Command praising “Generation of ’07” for having “forced the Venezuelan president, accustomed to setting the political agenda, to (over)react.” Among the “emerging leaders” Brownfield identified were Freddy Guevara and Yon Goicoechea. He applauded the latter figure as “one of the students’ most articulate defenders of civil liberties.”
Flush with cash from
libertarian oligarchs and
“Galvanizing public unrest…to take advantage of the situation and spin it against Chavez”
In 2009, the Generation 2007 youth activists staged their most provocative demonstration yet, dropping their pants on public roads and aping the outrageous guerrilla theater tactics outlined by Gene Sharp in his regime change manuals. The protesters had mobilized against the arrest of an ally from another newfangled youth group called JAVU. This far-right group “gathered funds from a variety of US government sources, which allowed it to gain notoriety quickly as the hardline wing of opposition street movements,” according to academic George Ciccariello-Maher’s book, “Building the Commune.”
While video of the protest is
not available, many Venezuelans have identified Guaidó as one of its key
participants. While the allegation is unconfirmed, it is certainly plausible;
the bare-buttocks protesters were members of the Generation 2007 inner core
that Guaidó belonged to, and were clad in their
Is this the ass that Trump wants to install in
That year, Guaidó
exposed himself to the public in another way, founding a political party to
capture the anti-Chavez energy his Generation 2007 had cultivated. Called
Popular Will, it was led by Leopoldo López, a Princeton-educated right-wing firebrand
heavily involved in National Endowment for Democracy programs and elected as
the mayor of a district in
Though Lopez’s interests
aligned neatly with
Popular Will founder Leopoldo Lopez cruising with his wife, Lilian Tintori
By 2010, Popular Will and its
foreign backers moved to exploit the worst drought to hit
Stratfor and CANVAS – key advisors of Guaidó and his anti-government cadre – devised a shockingly cynical plan to drive a dagger through the heart of the Bolivarian revolution. The scheme hinged on a 70% collapse of the country’s electrical system by as early as April 2010.
“This could be the watershed event, as there is little that Chavez can do to protect the poor from the failure of that system,” the Stratfor internal memo declared. “This would likely have the impact of galvanizing public unrest in a way that no opposition group could ever hope to generate. At that point in time, an opposition group would be best served to take advantage of the situation and spin it against Chavez and towards their needs.”
By this point, the Venezuelan opposition was receiving a staggering $40-50 million a year from US government organizations like USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy, according to a report by the Spanish think tank, the FRIDE Institute. It also had massive wealth to draw on from its own accounts, which were mostly outside the country.
While the scenario envisioned by Statfor did not come to fruition, the Popular Will party activists and their allies cast aside any pretense of non-violence and joined a radical plan to destabilize the country.
Towards violent destabilization
In November, 2010, according
to emails obtained by Venezuelan security services and
presented by former Justice Minister Miguel Rodríguez
Torres, Guaidó, Goicoechea,
and several other student activists attended a secret five-day training at a
hotel dubbed “Fiesta Mexicana” hotel in Mexico. The
sessions were run by Otpor, the Belgrade-based regime
change trainers backed by the
Inside the meetings, the emails stated, Guaidó and his fellow activists hatched a plan to overthrow President Hugo Chavez by generating chaos through protracted spasms of street violence.
Three petroleum industry figureheads – Gustavo Torrar, Eligio Cedeńo and Pedro Burelli – allegedly covered the $52,000 tab to hold the meeting. Torrar is a self-described “human rights activist” and “intellectual” whose younger brother Reynaldo Tovar Arroyo is the representative in Venezuela of the private Mexican oil and gas company Petroquimica del Golfo, which holds a contract with the Venezuelan state.
Cedeńo, for his
part, is a fugitive Venezuelan businessman who claimed asylum in the
Burelli insisted that the emails detailing his participation had been fabricated and even hired a private investigator to prove it. The investigator declared that Google’s records showed the emails alleged to be his were never transmitted.
Yet today Burelli
makes no secret of his desire to see
Update: Burelli contacted the Grayzone after the publication of this article to clarify his participation in the “Fiesta Mexicana” plot.
Burelli called the meeting “a legitimate activity that took place in a hotel by a
different name” in
Asked if OTPOR coordinated the meeting, he would only state that he “likes” the work of OTPOR/CANVAS and while not a funder of it, has “recommended activists from different countries to track them and participate in the activities they conduct in various countries.”
Burelli added: “The Einstein Institute trained thousands openly in
The alleged Fiesta Mexicana plot flowed into another destabilization plan
revealed in a series of documents produced by the Venezuelan government. In May 2014,
Machado and George W. Bush, 2005
“I think it is time to gather efforts; make the necessary calls, and obtain financing to annihilate Maduro and the rest will fall apart,” Machado wrote in an email to former Venezuelan diplomat Diego Arria in 2014.
In another email, Machado claimed that the violent plot had the
blessing of US Ambassador to
Guaidó heads to the barricades
That February, student demonstrators acting as shock troops for the exiled oligarchy erected violent barricades across the country, turning opposition-controlled quarters into violent fortresses known as guarimbas. While international media portrayed the upheaval as a spontaneous protest against Maduro’s iron-fisted rule, there was ample evidence that Popular Will was orchestrating the show.
“None of the protesters at the universities wore their university t-shirts, they all wore Popular Will or Justice First t-shirts,” a guarimba participant said at the time. “They might have been student groups, but the student councils are affiliated to the political opposition parties and they are accountable to them.”
Asked who the ringleaders were, the guarimba participant said, “Well if I am totally honest, those guys are legislators now.”
Around 43 were killed during the 2014 guarimbas. Three years later, they erupted again, causing mass destruction of public infrastructure, the murder of government supporters, and the deaths of 126 people, many of whom were Chavistas. In several cases, supporters of the government were burned alive by armed gangs.
Guaidó was directly involved in the 2014 guarimbas. In fact, he tweeted video showing himself clad in a helmet and gas mask, surrounded by masked and armed elements that had shut down a highway that were engaging in a violent clash with the police. Alluding to his participation in Generation 2007, he proclaimed, “I remember in 2007, we proclaimed, ‘Students!’ Now, we shout, ‘Resistance! Resistance!'”
Guaidó has deleted the tweet, demonstrating apparent concern for his image as a champion of democracy.
Guaido alongside Lopez at the fateful
In an televised appearance in 2016, Guaidó dismissed deaths resulting from guayas – a guarimba tactic involving stretching steel wire across a roadway in order to injure or kill motorcyclists – as a “myth.” His comments whitewashed a deadly tactic that had killed unarmed civilians like Santiago Pedroza and decapitated a man named Elvis Durán, among many others.
This callous disregard for human life would define his Popular Will party in the eyes of much of the public, including many opponents of Maduro.
Cracking down on Popular Will
As violence and political polarization escalated across the country, the government began to act against the Popular Will leaders who helped stoke it.
Freddy Guevara, the National Assembly Vice-President and second in command of Popular Will, was a principal leader in the 2017 street riots. Facing a trial for his role in the violence, Guevara took shelter in the Chilean embassy, where he remains.
Lester Toledo, a Popular Will
legislator from the state of Zulia, was wanted by
Venezuelan government in September 2016 on charges of financing terrorism and plotting assassinations. The plans were said to be made with former Colombian
President Álavaro Uribe.
another Otpor-trained Generation 2007 member who led
Popular Will, was arrested in July 2017. According to police, he was in
possession of a bag filled with nails, C4 explosives and a detonator. He was
Leopoldo Lopez, the longtime Popular Will leader, is today under house arrest, accused of a key role in deaths of 13 people during the guarimbas in 2014. Amnesty International lauded Lopez as a “prisoner of conscience” and slammed his transfer from prison to house as “not good enough.” Meanwhile, family members of guarimba victims introduced a petition for more charges against Lopez.
Yon Goicoechea, the Koch Brothers posterboy, was arrested in 2016 by security forces who claimed they found found a kilo of explosives in his vehicle. In a New York Times op-ed, Goicoechea protested the charges as “trumped-up” and claimed he had been imprisoned simply for his “dream of a democratic society, free of Communism.” He was freed in November 2017.
also a member of the original Otpor-trained
Generation 2007, became
Facing arrest, Smolansky shaved his beard, donned sunglasses and slipped into Brazil disguised as a priest with a bible in hand and rosary
around his neck. He now lives in
This July 26, Smolansky held what he called a “cordial reunion” with
Elliot Abrams, the convicted Iran-Contra felon installed by Trump as special
Four days earlier, Machado rumbled another violent threat against Maduro, declaring that if he “wants to save his life, he should understand that his time is up.”
A pawn in their game
The collapse of Popular Will
under the weight of the violent campaign of destabilization it ran alienated
large sectors of the public and wound much of its leadership up in exile or in
custody. Guaidó had remained a relatively minor
figure, having spent most of his nine-year career in the National Assembly as
an alternate deputy. Hailing from one of
Guaidó is known as the president of the opposition-dominated National Assembly, but he was never elected to the position. The four opposition parties that comprised the Assembly’s Democratic Unity Table had decided to establish a rotating presidency. Popular Will’s turn was on the way, but its founder, Lopez, was under house arrest. Meanwhile, his second-in-charge, Guevara, had taken refuge in the Chilean embassy. A figure named Juan Andrés Mejía would have been next in line but reasons that are only now clear, Juan Guaido was selected.
“There is a class reasoning
that explains Guaidó’s rise,” Sequera,
the Venezuelan analyst, observed. “Mejía is high
class, studied at one of the most expensive private universities in
In December 2018, Guaidó sneaked across the border and junketed to
A week later, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Rick Scott
and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart – all lawmakers from the
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met personally withGuaidó on January 10, according to the Wall Street Journal. However, Pompeo could not pronounce Guaidó’s name when he mentioned him in a press briefing on January 25, referring to him as “Juan Guido.”
By January 11, Guaidó’s Wikipedia page had been edited 37 times, highlighting the struggle to shape the image of a previously
anonymous figure who was now a tableau for
Guaidó might have
been an obscure figure, but his combination of radicalism and opportunism
“For the first time,”
Brownfield, the former American ambassador to
But Guaidó’s Popular Will party formed the shock troops of the guarimbas that caused the deaths of police officers and common citizens alike. He had even boasted of his own participation in street riots. And now, to win the hearts and minds of the military and police, Guaido had to erase this blood-soaked history.
On January 21, a day before the coup began in earnest, Guaidó’s wife delivered a video address calling on the military to rise up against Maduro. Her performance was wooden and uninspiring, underscoring her husband’s political limits.
While Guaidó waits on direct assistance, he remains what he has always been – a pet project of cynical outside forces. “It doesn’t matter if he crashes and burns after all these misadventures,” Sequera said of the coup figurehead. “To the Americans, he is expendable.”
Blumenthal is an
award-winning journalist and the author of several books, including
best-selling Republican Gomorrah, Goliath, The Fifty One Day War, and The Management of Savagery. He has produced print articles for an array of
publications, many video reports, and several documentaries, including Killing Gaza. Blumenthal founded The Grayzone in 2015 to
shine a journalistic light on
Dan Cohen is a journalist and filmmaker. He has produced widely distributed video reports and print dispatches from across Israel-Palestine. Dan is a correspondent at RT America and tweets at @DanCohen3000.