March 28, 2019 / 10:40 PM / 2 months ago

Venezuela's Fabiana Rosales, a young activist, emerges into the political spotlight

CARACAS/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Barely two months after emerging from obscurity in her home country of Venezuela, political activist Fabiana Rosales sat in the Oval Office across from U.S. President Donald Trump in a yellow armchair normally reserved for visiting heads of state.

FILE PHOTO: Fabiana Rosales, wife of Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido, smiles after a meeting at Peru's Foreign Ministry in Lima, Peru March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Janine Costa/File Photo

Rosales’ husband is Juan Guaido, the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly who invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency in January. While she was drumming up support at the White House, Guaido was calling for protests against a nationwide blackout, the second to hit the oil-rich country in a month.

A day earlier, assailants had thrown stones and attempted to enter Guaido’s car in downtown Caracas, according to a Reuters witness.

Officials in President Nicolas Maduro’s government have launched criminal investigations into Guaido - recognized by the United States and most Western countries as Venezuela’s rightful leader.

“What they don’t know is that, when they do that, what they’re doing is pushing us forward,” Rosales said at the White House. “We will not rest. We are here to save lives and to give back freedom.”

Spies and pro-government armed groups have long followed her and Guaido, who have a nearly two-year-old daughter named Miranda Eugenia, the 26-year-old Rosales told Reuters during a trip to Peru.

“She’s been through a lot, let’s put it that way,” Trump said in remarks that were translated into Spanish, as Rosales nodded and smiled. On Thursday, Rosales traveled to Palm Beach, Florida, to meet with U.S. first lady Melania Trump at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

Rosales, who was born in the Andean city of Merida and was in primary school when Maduro’s predecessor and mentor Hugo Chavez was elected in 1998, became involved in Venezuela’s volatile politics at a young age.

While studying journalism at university in western Zulia state, Rosales was a student activist for the Popular Will opposition political party, to which both Guaido and prominent former mayor Leopoldo Lopez, now under house arrest, belong.

She later worked as a press officer for a city council in her home state, before moving onto a similar role in a district of Caracas.

She and Guaido, a 35-year-old engineer who represents the coastal state of Vargas in the assembly, married in 2013. They have a yellow Labrador named Regulo, who takes classes at a training school for dogs, according to Rosales’ Instagram account.

As Guaido’s prominence has risen, the government has escalated the rhetoric against him, with Maduro implying he was behind alleged “attacks” on a power generator that caused the blackout, while the country’s state comptroller on Thursday announced he would be banned from public office for 15 years.

Maduro dismisses Guaido’s claim to the presidency as a Washington-backed effort to seize power in Venezuela.

“Despite the persecution, intimidation and even kidnappings of those who fight for a better Venezuela, the work has not stopped,” Rosales wrote on Twitter. “Our commitment to Venezuelans is stronger than any low blow by the usurpers.”

Last week, Guaido’s chief of staff was detained by intelligence agents on accusations of terrorism that allies denied. The incident raised concern that Maduro may soon detain Guaido. Nevertheless, Guaido has continued to call on his supporters to take to the streets in a bid to oust Maduro.

“I decided to leave fear aside, I decided to fight for my country,” Rosales said during the interview in Lima. “The greatest inheritance I can leave for my daughter is a free country.”

Reporting by Vivian Sequera and Luc Cohen in Caracas and by Roberta Rampton in Washington; Additional reporting by Mitra Taj in Lima, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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