February 7, 2019

“WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?” How a Tiny Cabal Galvanized Venezuela’s Opposition.

When Juan Guaidó declared himself Venezuela’s interim president on Jan. 23 in front of a crowd of 100,000 people under a broiling sun, some leading opposition figures had no idea he would do so, say people who work with Mr. Guaidó and other top leaders. That included a few standing alongside him. A stern look of shock crossed their faces. Some quietly left the stage.

“What the hell is going on?” one member of a group of politicians wrote to the others in a WhatsApp group chat. “How come we didn’t know about this.”

The plan was largely devised by a group of four opposition leaders—two in exile, one under house arrest and one barred from leaving the country. It came together only in recent weeks, as Mr. Maduro prepared to start a second six-year term on Jan. 10 after elections widely seen as a sham. Mr. Maduro has denounced the ceremony as part of a U.S.-backed coup to overthrow his government.

The act of political skulduggery paid off. The crowd reacted ecstatically to Mr. Guaidó, and one nation after another recognized him within hours.

The strategy has dramatically altered Venezuela’s political landscape, empowering a faction led by Mr. Guaidó’s Popular Will party that has long lobbied for more direct confrontation with the Maduro regime.

A preference cascade in action.

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