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'Our country is dying': Guaido envoy urges international community to help Venezuela reclaim its freedom

Key Points
  • "Things are advancing. There is a strategy that is advancing," Vanessa Neumann, the chief diplomat in London for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, told CNBC in an exclusive interview.
  • The South American country is in the midst of one of the Western Hemisphere's worst humanitarian crises in recent memory.
  • Last year, Venezuelans filed more asylum claims than citizens of any other country — including war-torn Syria — according to a recent report from the United Nations refugee agency.
Venezuelan opposition leader and National Assembly Leader Juan Guaido speaks during a press conference with international media at Centro Plaza on June 17, 2019 in Caracas, Venezuela.
Matias Delacroix | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Venezuela's internationally-recognized government believes there is still reason to be hopeful when it comes to dislodging President Nicolas Maduro from power.

"Things are advancing. There is a strategy that is advancing," Vanessa Neumann, the chief diplomat in London for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, told CNBC in an exclusive interview. She did not go into specific details about the National Assembly leader's plans over the coming months.

The South American country is in the midst of one of the Western Hemisphere's worst humanitarian crises in recent memory, with some 4 million people having fled the country since 2015 amid an economic meltdown.

A protracted political stand-off has thrust the oil-rich, but cash-poor, country into uncharted territory — whereby it now has an internationally-recognized government, with no control over state functions, running parallel to Maduro's regime.

Our country is dying, our people are dying, and the international community is increasingly alarmed with what they are seeing.
Vanessa Neumann
official representative of Juan Guaido to the U.K.

Guaido assumed a rival interim presidency in January, citing Venezuela's constitution, and denounced Maduro's government as illegitimate after he secured re-election last year in a vote widely criticized as rigged. Guaido has since been recognized by more than 50 countries, including the U.S. and most Latin American and European countries.

However, Maduro has refused to cede power. And, crucially, he still has the broad support of the military.

"Maduro has not accepted the situation, but other countries have," Neumann said, before adding that there was a growing sense that the "international community is coalescing at least around a diagnosis of the problem."

"They are starting to realize that this regime is criminal."

'None of us have accepted the status quo'

On April 30, Guaido appeared outside one of the most important military installations in the capital city of Caracas flanked by defecting soldiers and said "the time is now" for Venezuela's armed forces to turn on their embattled commander-in-chief.

The dramatic pre-dawn declaration appeared to symbolize an extraordinary watershed moment in the country's political history.

"I remember saying to my friend at the time … It's happened, we are free," Neumann said, as she tearfully recalled what many believed would come to mark Maduro's downfall.

As it turned out, most of the military top brass remained loyal to their socialist president and Guaido's attempt to trigger a nationwide uprising failed.

VIDEO6:1606:16
Venezuela's Juan Guaidó is going up against Maduro's regime

When asked whether she feared the failed uprising would represent the beginning of an enduring political stalemate in the crisis-stricken country, Neumann replied: "No. I am optimistic. They can't hold much longer."

"It is perfectly clear that none of us have accepted the status quo. Our country is dying, our people are dying, and the international community is increasingly alarmed with what they are seeing."

"Diplomatically, we really need the international community to help us reclaim our freedom," Neumann said.

In the weeks after April's failed rebellion, which was described by Maduro as a U.S.-orchestrated coup, many opposition lawmakers in the country have lost their parliamentary immunity and some have been arrested.

Guaido has also lost his parliamentary immunity but has so far not been jailed.

Free and fair elections

Venezuela's inflation rate fell under 1 million percent in May, after peaking above 1.3 million percent the previous month, nearly a year after Maduro instituted attempted reforms in August 2018 that cut five zeroes off the currency and prices.

The largest note in circulation had been 500 bolivars, which is now reportedly not enough to buy a piece of candy.

Officials in Venezuela blame the inflation crisis on U.S. sanctions that has restricted its ability to sell oil. Critics, though, say economic mismanagement and an oversupply of currency have been the main issues.

Last year, Venezuelans filed more asylum claims than citizens of any other country — including war-torn Syria — according to a recent report from the United Nations refugee agency. That's despite the fact more than 10% of the South American country's population had already left.

Michelle Bachelet, high commissioner for human rights at the United Nations, left, shakes hands with Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela's president, following a meeting at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela, on Friday, June 21, 2019. Hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the UN's Venezuela office to denounce what they say are the myriad rights abuses by the regime of President Maduro, including extrajudicial killings, and has held hundreds of political prisoners and detained journalists.
Carlos Becerra | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Looking ahead, Neumann said her diplomatic objectives included getting more countries to recognize Guaido as Venezuela's legitimate interim leader, highlighting the criminality of the Maduro regime and improving global awareness of the human rights abuses in the country.

More than five months after Guaido took to the streets of Caracas and declared himself as the rightful interim president of the OPEC nation, it remains unclear how the political impasse will be resolved.

"Don't forget, our sole goal is to get to free and fair elections. That is what is driving us to break the logjam," Neumann said.

"It is so hard to know what will happen next. But you can see it is like a dam. The regime has some cracks in it already and eventually they will start inter-connecting and the water will break through."