Juan Guaidó at a rally in Caracas, shortly after declaring himself interim president, January 2019.
Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters

On January 23, Venezuela’s opposition-led National Assembly shocked the world. It declared the country’s president, Nicolás Maduro, illegitimate, pronounced his office vacant, and proceeded to swear in National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó as interim president in accordance with Venezuela’s constitutional provisions on presidential succession. Soon after, the United States, Canada, and most major governments in the Western Hemisphere recognized Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela.

Such a bold and energetic move came as a surprise: 2018 had been a bleak year for Venezuela’s opposition. Despite having won control of the legislature in 2015 and led a massive civil disobedience campaign in 2017, the opposition seemed further than ever from removing Maduro’s deeply unpopular authoritarian government from office. The major anti-Maduro parties had spent the year fighting one another, arguing over whom to blame for their failure and leveling accusations that some had secretly sold out to the

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  • HAROLD TRINKUNAS is Deputy Director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University and a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.
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