(Bloomberg) -- On Thursday, Juan Guaido woke up and doused himself with a bucket of water.
It was his shower. Like millions of Venezuelans, the man who dozens of countries recognize as the legitimate leader of his broken country can't rely on the taps to run. "It's one of the things I hate most," the 35-year-old lawmaker said in an interview. "It's a symbol of poverty, and during much of my life I had to do it."
And yet, he was for the most part characteristically upbeat, exuding that can-do spirit that his followers love and his detractors find naive, as he talked about how Venezuela would have to tolerate much more suffering in order to topple Nicolas Maduro's autocratic regime. Despite the pain, he said, the U.S. shouldn't ease up on the sanctions that are deepening the worst economic crisis in the country's history.
"It's going to get worse" before things turn, he warned.
Ultimately, he insisted, the opposition movement, rekindled after he became leader of the National Assembly in January, would succeed. New elections could be held in six or nine months because the pressure simply won't let up on Maduro's closest collaborators to break ranks, he said.
Considering the current state of affairs, those proclamations sounded excessively optimistic, even by Guaido's standards. After he botched a military uprising in late April, his movement lost momentum. Many of his closest allies are either detained, taking refuge at foreign embassies or in exile.
Even Guaido himself, a man who the U.S. has worked hard to protect, has been on the run, changing locations every few weeks to keep one step ahead of Maduro's security forces. On Thursday, Guaido gave the interview from a barren office with a pitch-dark entrance closely guarded by burly bodyguards in a building in Eastern Caracas. Between calls and meetings he sat at a table and watched a video of his 2-year-old daughter.
Over an impromptu lunch served in Styrofoam containers, he defended the opposition's strategy and dismissed critics who have complained the bid to oust Maduro is losing momentum, or even stalling.
"We have to push forward," Guaido said. "Their persecution has not made a difference in doing politics, but it has made it more complex and much harder to do in terms of getting support in the streets."
Early in the year, the "Guaido Effect" sent real estate prices soaring and stocks rallying on expectations that Maduro was on his way out. That didn't last, and Guaido's approval rating in opinions polls has dropped by about 5 percentage points since February to 56.5%. While it's something to pay attention to, it's worth noting he wasn't even in the running months ago, he said, and Maduro is at historic lows.
Guaido has received unprecedented support from the Trump administration, which has issued sanctions against individuals, the oil industry, the gold trade and the central bank. The lawmaker stressed, though, that the blame for the misery in Venezuela -- 24-hour lines to buy gasoline, food rotting from blackouts, widespread hunger -- rests squarely with Maduro. Any lifting of sanctions to help end the suffering would only "normalize" the crisis.
Among the world powers not backing him are China and Russia, major Venezuelan creditors. Guaido said that recent declarations by both nations showed a softening in their stance and signaled a willingness to find a solution.
He didn't seem to be bothered by a report that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed opposition infighting for impeding progress in removing Maduro and predicted that if he falls, as many as 40 people will vie for the presidency.
"We're united in the desire and need to get rid of Maduro," Guaido said. "If 40 people want to compete for the presidency, they're welcome to. That's democracy."
To contact the reporters on this story: Patricia Laya in Caracas at firstname.lastname@example.org;Andrew Rosati in Caracas at email@example.com;Daniel Cancel in Sao Paulo at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: David Papadopoulos at email@example.com, Anne Reifenberg
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