by Maria Isabel SANCHEZ / Agence France-Presse
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido’s latest Instagram selfie got over half a million likes. Even his dog has nearly 30,000 followers.
President Nicolas Maduro might have dismissed the 35-year-old as a “kid playing politics” — but experts say his millennial status could give him an edge over the middle-aged socialist leader.
“I’m going to take a selfie so that they can see your faces … I want them to see the face of hope and joy,” Guaido said during Tuesday’s mass protest, setting off a huge cheer from supporters waving Venezuelan flags.
The self-proclaimed acting president was hardly known before the turn of the year. But with three million Instagram followers and 1.2 million on Twitter — a figure that quadrupled in less than a month — Guaido is a firm Venezuelan celebrity.
“Juan Guaido is part of the millennials generation,” said Andres Canizalez, a political communication expert.
“He’s taken over social media, he’s able to be authentic, empathetic, to improvise, to show his true self,” he added.
– Slick and smooth –
During his rallies, Guaido seems like a rockstar. Fans follow him looking for selfies, or to hug, greet or even just touch him.
Slick, smooth, and a dashing young dad, his image couldn’t be further removed from the portly mustachioed figure of 56-year-old Maduro.
Maduro is also very active on social media but “he no longer has the political initiative and finds himself on the defensive,” said political scientist Luis Salamanca.
Maduro’s government accuses Guaido of being a puppet to Washington — but the opposition leader has quickly eclipsed his party’s leader Leopoldo Lopez, who has been under house arrest since 2017.
Almost always dressed in a smart suit — in contrast to Maduro’s wardrobe of military fatigues, shell suits and sometimes bright red shirts — Guaido always gives speeches or interviews next to the Venezuelan flag, which his supporters carry everywhere.
He also regularly travels to rallies by motorcycle, as he did on Tuesday.
When he took over as president of the National Assembly — the one of Venezuela’s five government branches controlled by the opposition — on January 5, he stepped up to the podium with his wife Fabiana Rosales and their 20-month-old daughter.
He looked decidedly presidential: some have even compared him to former US president Barack Obama due to his lean physique, short dark hair and sharp dress sense.
– Chavez ‘antithesis’ –
Jose Rafael Briceno, who coaches Miss Venezuela participants on public appearances, said Guaido’s polished image aims to deliver a clear and direct message.
His sober style reflects “the type of state he wants to bring back,” said Briceno, who says the opposition leader’s popularity comes form him being the “antithesis” of the charismatic late socialist leader Hugo Chavez.
“His youth, his modest beginnings play in his favor… You can feel it in the way he communicates,” said political communication expert Canizalez.
“Even though he went to university, he hasn’t lost that popular spontaneity.”
Sources close to Guaido’s party told AFP he took lessons to improve his elocution, image and mannerisms, having been little more than a talking statue only several months earlier.
“He learned very quickly, but he’s not a great orator — although I think the country’s fed up with such oration,” Canizalez added.
Maduro — like Chavez — is known for his lengthy bombastic rhetoric, although he often regurgitates stock phrases and ideas.
Guaido’s speeches, on the other hand, are practical — neither flowery nor grandiose, political scientist Salamanca said.
“The key to his image is the surprise factor and the direct challenge he made to Maduro’s power. Therein lies his strength.”