Venezuelan opposition to march as Guaido returns, risking arrest

CARACAS (AFP) – Opposition supporters in Venezuela took to the streets yesterday after leader Juan Guaido called for mass protests against President Nicolas Maduro – as the self-declared Interim President prepared to return after a week touring Latin American allies.

Guaido’s reappearance in Venezuela would pose an immediate challenge to the embattled Maduro, who will have to decide whether to arrest him for defying a travel ban – thereby provoking strong international condemnation – or allow him to enter unmolested, which would undermine his authority, analyst said.

“I’m announcing my return to the country. I am calling on the Venezuelan people to mobilise all over the country tomorrow at 11am,” Guaido wrote last Sunday on Twitter.

Later, in a video with his wife shared on his social networks, he said if Maduro’s government “tries to kidnap us… it will be one of the last mistakes it makes.”

Guaido, who has been recognised by more than 50 countries as Venezuela’s Interim President, did not say how or when he would return, though speculation is rife that a flight from the Colombian capital Bogota to Caracas is the most likely route.

Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed Acting President Juan Guaido is surrounded by supporters and journalists as he leaves his hotel in Salinas, Ecuador. – AFP

However, it is possible that he plans to slip across the border with Colombia in the same way he left Venezuela, claiming on that occasion that he had help from Maduro’s military.

Guaido held talks in Salinas – a coastal resort town west of Guayaquil – last Saturday with President Lenin Moreno, and met with Venezuelan refugees.

Last Sunday around noon he flew out of Salinas without revealing his destination.

Defying a Venezuelan government travel ban, Guaido slipped across the border to Colombia on February 23 in an attempt to escort in truckloads of international humanitarian aid. While in Colombia he met with visiting United States (US) Vice President Mike Pence.

The 35-year-old political newcomer then travelled to Brazil, where he met the country’s new right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, and last Friday travelled to Paraguay and Argentina.

In a poke at Maduro during his trip, he said he was invited to visit Chile later this month.

Guaido, who heads the opposition-led National Assem-bly, stunned the world on January 23 when he proclaimed himself Venezuela’s Acting President after the legislature declared Maduro a usurper and illegitimate over his May 2017 re-election, which was widely criticised as fraudulent. Maduro’s new term in office began on January 10.

Guaido wants to oust Maduro and set up a transitional government ahead of new elections.

Guaido “must return to Venezuela and continue to press internally, as the international support is enormous,” Eufracio Infante, 64, a Venezuelan lawyer and history teacher, told AFP.

“We are facing a very delicate situation and every minute we are approaching an outcome we hope will not be catastrophic,” he said.

Maduro – who retains the support of Venezuela’s powerful military – enjoys strong support from Russia, which accuses Washington of interventionism, and China, which is concerned over the fate of billions of dollars in loans to Maduro’s regime.