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AP Exclusive: Secret diplomacy behind Venezuela’s self-declared interim president

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The world watched enthralled on Jan. 23 as little-known Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself president of the struggling South American nation and called on socialist President Nicolas Maduro to resign. More surprising still was the fact the 35-year-old Guaido was almost immediately recognized as the country’s rightful leader by the United States, Canada and a host of Latin American countries.

The timing was clearly no coincidence, but what exactly had happened?

Journalists throughout the Americas raced to find answers. Bogota, Colombia-based Andean News Director Josh Goodman, Toronto-based Canada Bureau Chief Rob Gillies and Washington newsman Luis Alonso scooped them all with first-rate source work that revealed a coordinated behind-the-scenes push that read more like a spy novel than real world events.

For weeks,a coalition of Latin American governments had launched secret diplomatic efforts,including encrypted messages and a furtive trip by Guaido to Washington,Bogota and Brasilia to build a strategy around the baby-faced Assembly president. To leave Venezuela,Guaido had sneaked across the lawless border with Colombia,so as not to raise suspicions among immigration officials who sometimes bar opposition figures from traveling abroad, an anti-government leader told AP.

Sharing tips across time zones,each journalist relied on sources cultivated over years,leading to the exclusive. People who met with Guaido in Washington were told not to talk about his visit for fear the opposition’s bold move would be framed as a U.S.-orchestrated plot. Gillies’ access to high-level diplomats shed light on Canada’s surprisingly assertive role in the secret diplomacy. From Caracas,Goodman held late-night conversations with at least one prominent activist and a U.S. official whose communications are under intense surveillance. Meanwhile, Alonso was meeting with a diplomat representing a country in the multinational coalition that advocates democratic reform in Venezuela. The diplomat briefed him on issues including details of Guaido’s secret trip to Bogota and the coalition’s role in Guaido assuming the interim presidency.

Sharing tips across time zones, the team relied on sources cultivated over years.

So far, the AP is the only media outlet to have told this story,and it has been widely used inside and outside Venezuela. Even embattled President Maduro praised the AP scoop to supporters at a rally over the weekend,while his foreign minister mentioned it to the world’s diplomats at an emergency U.S. Security Council meeting.

For their resourceful and consequential news break on one of the top stories in the world,Goodman, Gillies and Alonso win AP’s Best of the Week.

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