(Bloomberg) -- Opposition leader Juan Guaido staged a chaotic return to Venezuela after another international trip in which he tried to garner world leaders’ support to unseat President Nicolas Maduro.
The head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly landed on Tuesday in Caracas, where Maduro’s loyalists clashed with opposition lawmakers who were there to greet him. He was swarmed by them after passing through customs and immigration, and was able to leave the airport without being arrested for violating a government travel ban. Guaido had also defied that ban last year without suffering repercussions on his re-entry to Venezuela.
“This is a cowardly dictatorship, I defied them and we entered Venezuela,” Guaido said at a rally in a public square in eastern Caracas. “They don’t accept their destiny. They are alone, isolated, they represent no one.”
His return caps an international tour that featured stops in Davos and Washington, where he met President Donald Trump. Guaido was publicly embraced by Trump during his State-of-the-Union address last week, in which the U.S. leader promised that “Maduro’s grip of tyranny will be smashed and broken.”
Guaido has struggled to translate that support into concrete gains against a regime that remains solidly entrenched. Last April, he tried to lead an uprising against the government which failed after most of the armed forces refused to join. Yet Maduro has refrained from arresting him, possibly fearing an escalation of sanctions against his government.
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Guaido said journalists were attacked Tuesday. Earlier, security forces stopped buses taking National Assembly members to the airport. Opposition lawmaker Delsa Solorzano said on Twitter that legislator Deyalitza Aray was released after being briefly detained while trying to reach the airport.
Guaido’s uncle Juan Jose Marquez, who accompanied him on the flight, was reported missing following the leader’s arrival at the Caracas’ airport, according to the opposition’s press office. Venezuela’s information ministry declined to comment on Marquez’s disappearance.
Journalists said they were beaten and chased by Maduro supporters while at the airport. Inside the terminal, government supporters protested against the U.S. government’s decision last week to sanction state-owned airline Conviasa.
“The escalation of violence is very serious,” Guaido said at the eastern Caracas rally. “Today there were irregular groups backed by agents of the dictatorship.”
Though he promised important announcements, Guaido’s speech Tuesday night focused on stirring supporters. He vowed domestic and international action to keep the pressure on Maduro, and said multilateral entities had agreed to create a “Venezuela Fund” when a transition of power takes place.
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In mid-January, Guaido traveled to Bogota with the support of Colombian President Ivan Duque. Subsequently, Guaido attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, met with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa, among others.
Before leaving the U.S., he met with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Organization of American States Secretary-General Luis Almagro.
Venezuela’s socialist leader struck a defiant tone in his response to Guaido’s U.S. trip.
“Donald Trump: you can’t beat Venezuela, nobody can smash or break Venezuela,” Maduro said in a speech following Guaido’s meeting at the White House. “Madness has taken over Donald Trump’s policy against Venezuela.”
After Venezuela’s 2018 elections widely regarded as rigged, Guaido, in his capacity as president of the National Assembly, invoked Venezuela’s charter to launch an interim government in January 2019 and rapidly won international recognition after Maduro began a new six-year term.
While Maduro had threatened to arrest Guaido for months, a Trump official warned Feb. 5 that Venezuela‘s regime would see very significant consequences if there is any harm to opposition leader upon his return.
(Adds details on legislator’s release, disappearance of Guaido’s uncle starting in the sixth graph.)
--With assistance from Nicolle Yapur, Fabiola Zerpa and Jose Orozco.
To contact the reporters on this story: Patricia Laya in Caracas at firstname.lastname@example.org;Alex Vasquez in Caracas Office at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Daniel Cancel at firstname.lastname@example.org, Robert Jameson, Walter Brandimarte
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