Venezuelan opposition leader and self-declared president Juan Guaido said on Saturday he will return home in the coming days after a visit to Ecuador and called for new protests next week against President Nicolas Maduro, whose government had banned him from traveling abroad and who has been branded as Venezuela's illegitimate leader by much of the world with some key exceptions including Russia, China and Turkey.
“I announce my return to the country and call on marches across the country for Monday and Tuesday,” Guaido tweeted late on Saturday. “We call on people to be attentive to the next steps that we’ll announce.”
#Venezuela— Juan Guaidó (@jguaido) March 3, 2019
Anuncio mi regreso al país y la convocatoria de movilizaciones en todo el territorio nacional para este lunes y martes.
Difundamos este mensaje y estén muy atentos a nuestro llamado a través de las redes oficiales. #VamosBien
“As for the next steps for Venezuelans, I announce my return home from Ecuador,” Guaido told a news conference in the coastal town of Salinas alongside Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno.
Guaido, who laid his claim as rival president on the grounds that Maduro won a new term in fraudulent elections last year, secretly left Venezuela last month in violation of a travel ban. He has spent the past few days touring between Latin American countries to muster support for his campaign to form a transition government and oust Maduro, whom he denounces as an illegitimate usurper. On his trip, Guaido visited Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay who are backing his push to depose Maduro and organize free and fair elections. Last week Guaido left for Colombia to coordinate efforts there to send humanitarian aid into his country, although following a deadly skirmish, troops loyal to Maduro blocked a convoy of aid trucks and turned them back.
Guaido did not state when or how he would return to Venezuela, although according to Reuters citing the Ecuadorean government’s schedule for his visit, he is expected to leave Ecuador at 9.30 a.m. local time on Sunday.
His return opens the possibility that Venezuelan authorities will arrest him. The Supreme Court had imposed a travel ban on him after he invoked the country’s constitution on Jan 23 to assume an interim presidency. Since taking an oath in front of supporters in late January, Guaido received the backing of more than 50 countries if not Venezuela's key creditors and oil exporting customers such as Russia and China. Meanwhile, perhaps contrary to his expectations, a quick flip of the military hasn’t materialized, but the U.S. doubled down on financial and oil sanctions that will crimp Maduro’s access to hard currency.
Guaido said Venezuelans should again take to the streets on Monday and Tuesday, even though Venezuela, like other Latin American countries, was celebrating the Carnival holiday. “We have little to celebrate and a lot to do,” he said.
Guaido has called on his international backers to impose harsher measures to pressure Maduro and after the aid convoy’s failure proposed that “all options be kept open.”
While U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has not ruled out military intervention to dislodge Maduro, it is seen as unlikely and his Latin American allies have encouraged a mix of sanctions and diplomacy instead. Meanwhile, even as Maduro's regime has kept the political backing from allies like Russia, China and Turkey, any future financial support from those countries remains a major question mark and will be key to Maduro’s staying power.
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Separately, speaking to Russia's RT, Venezuela's Vice President Delcy Rodriguez said that Caracas will use all legal means available to protect its assets in Europe and the US from illegal seizure. She also discussed the fate of "president" Juan Guaido. Rodriguez said the Venezuelan government has already taken "concrete legal steps" to claim back the assets of which it was "robbed" by the US and which have been frozen by European banks, including blocking access to repatriating the Venezuela state gold currently held at the Bank of England.
"We have hired lawyers to protect our interests, first and foremost, it concerns gold which has been unlawfully retained by the Bank of England," Rodriguez said.
The Venezuelan VP also said that Caracas would mount a legal defense against the US move to freeze $7 billion of assets belonging to the state-owned PDVSA oil and natural gas giant and its US subsidiary Citgo.
"We have also taken steps for the legal protection of Venezuela. I'm talking about the theft of Venezuela's assets committed by the US. Venezuela has the right to protect its legal interests."
Speaking of the previously announced decision to relocate PDVSA's European headquarters from Lisbon to Moscow, Rodriguez called the transfer "rather timely" and in line with Venezuela's expanded cooperation with Russian oil and gas industry. Rodriguez said that in addition to the European HQ, other PDVSA affiliates would relocate to Russia as well.
Finally, the VP shared her views on Guaido, denouncing his actions as detrimental to Venezuela's future.
"This person is not only making a joke of himself inside the country, but is now making a circus show at the international level," Rodriguez said, blaming the US-backed opposition lawmaker of colluding with the Trump administration to overthrow Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
Asked what Guaido, who is now in Colombia, can expect when and if he returns to his home country, Rodriguez said that his actions, such as plotting to topple the government, would warrant a criminal prosecution.
"Such actions are prosecuted by criminal law. Also, there is a regulatory framework that our authorities are guided by. And they are already taking the necessary measures and will continue to protect our state of law and order," she said, without elaborating further.
Meanwhile, the Trum administration has warned Caracas of "serious consequences" if it harms Guaido, who could face up to 30 years in prison, according to a judge of the country's Supreme Tribunal for Justice. Deputy judge Juan Carlos Valdez said that Guaido, who violated a travel ban on February 22 when he crossed into Colombia, was "hiding from justice" and would be "caught and sent to prison" when he comes back. Rodriguez also warned the opposition against calling for military intervention, noting that such calls would backfire since "no one is immune to bombings."