Norka Marquez was standing near her son, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, when he declared himself the crisis-torn country’s new president. But she says she never saw it coming.
Guaido, the head of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled legislature, raised his right hand before a crowd of thousands of supporters on Wednesday and proclaimed himself acting head of state.
In doing so, he defied socialist President Nicolas Maduro, whose re-election he branded illegitimate.
Marquez, 54, says she was as surprised as anyone to see her 35-year-old engineer son suddenly become an interim president recognized by the United States and a string of other countries.
“So much has happened in so little time,” Marquez, a teacher by training, told AFP.
Q: When did you learn your son was going to declare himself acting president?
A: “I didn’t. I was right next to him, with his wife, with all the lawmakers, and we were taken by surprise. It was incredible. I never imagined I’d be right next to an acting president of Venezuela. I cried a lot. And then I felt afraid.
“But now I see him so confident, so strong, and that helps us a family, to see him firm, on his feet, to hear his words. And we’re out there supporting him.”
Q: How did you react when he was briefly detained by intelligence agents on January 13?
A: “I was very afraid. I felt like they were tearing away one of the most important things in my life. I prayed to the Virgin Mary of the Valley, to my (late) father and mother, to bring him back to me. And they brought him back safe and sound.
“When he arrived, he was euphoric. He didn’t gave anyone time to cry or laugh or scream. He just said, ‘Let’s go, let’s go’” (to the rally he was en route for when he was detained).
Q: What qualities in your son brought him to this point?
A: “He was a leader from a very young age.
“When he was a baby, he had a lot of allergies, and my mother would put cream on him after his bath and say, ‘When you’re president someday, you won’t let me put cream on you or see you anymore.’ (Laughing.)
“We used to joke around at home (after he was elected to the legislature) like we were swearing him in as president... Just family anecdotes, but who knows? Maybe we predicted it.
“Juan loves to help, to serve others. It’s one of his greatest qualities.”
Q: He never thought of leaving Venezuela, like so many other young people?
A: “Never. Never. I always say, our roots are in Venezuela. We were born here and we’ve lost here, because we lost so much in the Vargas tragedy” (when mudslides caused by torrential rain killed thousands of people in their home region in December 1999).
Q: How did he get through that as a 15-year-old?
A: “It was hard. I don’t like to talk about it much. But we got through it.
“Afterward, we went back to see what we could save. One thing we managed to save was the dictionary, which was his favorite book.
“He’s very strong, he’s the one who rallies us. If something bad happens, he’ll tell a joke, and you end up laughing instead of crying.”
Q: Was your family involved in politics?
A: “No, we’re a family of soldiers. His paternal grandfather was in the national guard and my father was a sailor.
“Juan loved that world. He wanted to become a military pilot, but he couldn’t because of his asthma.”
Q: And now he’s calling on the military to withdraw its support for Maduro.
A: “I taught my son to respect the military and soldiers, and today he’s calling on them to join us... to rebuild the country.”