The opposition leader Juan Guaidó was almost unknown both inside and outside Venezuela until the start of this year.
Guaidó was made chairman of the national assembly in January because it was the turn of his party, Voluntad Popular (People’s Will). At 35, he was a junior member of his party but its leaders were either under house arrest, in hiding or in exile.
He declared himself “interim president” that month, resting his claim on a clause in the constitution that allows the legislature to take power temporarily and call new elections if it deems the president to be failing to fulfil basic duties or to have vacated the post.
Guaidó’s relative obscurity initially proved an advantage in a country where the opposition has generally failed to distinguish itself, losing its nerve at critical moments, succumbing to infighting, and getting involved in a failed coup against Hugo Chávez in 2002.
He inspired a huge wave of protests inside Venezuela with a message of peaceful change, and won widespread international support. Countries from Europe to the US and regional powers recognised him as Venezuela’s legitimate president, handing him control of bank accounts and Venezuelan assets along with the formal recognition.
As months dragged on however, Guaidó’s hope of winning a wave of military defections that would end the rule of Nicolás Maduro seemed to fade, leaving his movement in an uneasy limbo – self-declared president but with no power.
He raised concerns inside Venezuela and internationally when he appeared to hint at the possibility of military intervention after a failed attempt to bring humanitarian aid into the country in February.
Questions have also been raised about the bedfellows Guaidó has chosen in what he calls his bid to rescue Venezuela. His main international backer is Donald Trump.
Another key regional supporter is Brazil’s far-right firebrand president, Jair Bolsonaro, known for his hostility to human rights and his fondness for dictatorship. Despite these characteristics, Guaidó has praised what he called Bolsonaro’s “commitment to and for democracy [and] human rights”.