Opposition leader Juan Guaido returned to Venezuela on Tuesday after an international support-building tour and called on the people in the crisis-wracked nation to keep pushing back against President Nicolas Maduro.
Guaido — who had defied a travel ban to visit Colombia, the United States, Canada and several European nations — was greeted by a throng of cheering supporters at the international airport outside the capital Caracas.
“We’re in Caracas now. I bring back with me the commitment of the free world, ready to help us regain democracy and freedom,” Guaido wrote on Twitter, before tweeting a picture of himself at passport control that was captioned “HOME.”
Shortly before his arrival, fighting broke out between his followers — including several lawmakers — and Maduro’s supporters.
“Guaido, fascist!” shouted employees of the state-run airline Conviasa, which was subjected to US sanctions last week, who had entered the area where the 36-year-old’s backers were waiting for him. Several diplomats were present.
Videos circulating on social media appear to show Guaido sprayed with soda by an airline worker. The opposition leader seemed to laugh it off.
Security escorts flanked the opposition leader — wearing a white shirt and a wooden cross around his neck — as he got into a white vehicle to head to Caracas.
After his trip abroad — including a meeting with US President Donald Trump, who threatened to “smash” Maduro’s regime — Guaido promised new sanctions “against the dictatorship” would be coming soon, and called for renewed protests.
“We came to work and leave the rest, to do what is necessary to accomplish the goal” of pushing Maduro from office, Guaido later told a rally attended by about 500 people.
His office said late Tuesday that a relative travelling with Guaido had vanished after being held by airport officials.
– ‘A new moment’ –
In a veiled reference to Guaido’s return, Maduro called on his supporters to focus on “defending Venezuela.”
“Let’s not get distracted by stupidities, by dummies, by traitors to the homeland,” he said at a ceremony broadcast on state television.
Guaido rose to prominence in January 2019 when he declared himself the country’s acting president in a direct challenge to Maduro.
He derived such authority from his position as the speaker of the National Assembly after the legislature declared Maduro’s 2018 re-election invalid following a poll widely denounced as rigged.
Lawmakers called Maduro a “usurper” while more than 50 countries recognized Guaido as interim president.
However, Maduro retains the support of Venezuela’s powerful military and has resisted Guaido’s challenge, even as the United States ramps up the pressure.
The international trip was the second time Guaido, who called for a legislative session to be held Wednesday, had flouted the travel ban.
Maduro’s number two Diosdado Cabello said Monday that he didn’t expect much of anything to change after Guaido’s travels, which he called a “tourism trip.”
“He is nothing,” Cabello said.
But Guaido tweeted Tuesday: “A new moment has begun that won’t accept setbacks and in which we need everyone to do what they have to do. The time has arrived.”
“Now more than ever, we need unity, confidence and political discipline. Look out for new announcements.”