Guaido rallies support, vows to return to Venezuela 'despite threats'

Telegram från AFP / Omni
28 febr. 2019, 21.00

Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido vowed on Thursday to return home "in the coming days ... despite the threats" from President Nicolas Maduro's regime, as he continues a tour of regional allies to rally international support.

Guaido, recognized as interim president by more than 50 countries, met with Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday afternoon while Paraguay's leader Mario Abdo announced he would be in Asuncion on Friday.

"I've received threats against me and my family, but also threats of imprisonment by the regime," said Guaido alongside Bolsonaro.

After flouting a travel ban by Maduro's government, Guaido went to Colombia last Friday where he met President Ivan Duque, US Vice President Mike Pence, Abdo and Sebastian Pinera of Chile.

He will meet Abdo at 11:00 am (1400 GMT) on Friday at the presidential palace.

Venezuela is wracked by a humanitarian crisis that has seen poverty soar as millions of people face chronic shortages of basic necessities such as food and medicine.

After years of economic chaos, its problems have been compounded by hyperinflation that the International Monetary Fund says will reach a staggering 10 million percent in 2019 -- leaving salaries and savings virtually worthless.

An estimated 2.7 million Venezuelans have left the country since 2015, the United Nations says.

Colombian immigration officials said that more than 550 members of the Venezuelan military had deserted and sought asylum across the border.

Guaido stunned the world last month, proclaiming himself Venezuela's acting president after the National Assembly he leads had declared Maduro a usurper and illegitimate over his controversial re-election in May.

Those polls were widely criticized as fraudulent.

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

"We're fighting for free elections, as stipulated by the constitution, democratic elections," said Guaido and Bolsonaro in a joint statement.

Far-right Bolsonaro apologized for the support that two of his leftist predecessors -- Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff -- gave to Maduro.

Guaido told reporters that he has meetings planned at the end of the week and would return home "at the latest on Monday," although there are fears he might be arrested when he does.

Maduro told US channel ABC News earlier this week that Guaido would have to face justice when he returns as he ignored his ban on foreign travel.

Guaido's supporters were planning a welcome home party at the offices of the El Nacional newspaper in Caracas on Friday.

Guaido was in Colombia to try to force through desperately needed humanitarian aid into Venezuela but was thwarted by a determined military blockade ordered by Maduro.

He took the opportunity to meet with Pence and regional allies in the Lima Group -- made up of 13 Latin American countries and Canada -- to discuss possible solutions to Venezuela's political crisis.

Pence reiterated US President Donald Trump's stance that "all options are on the table" but the Lima Group ruled out a military intervention in Venezuela.

Guaido arrived in Brasilia on a Colombian military plane in the early hours of Thursday morning.

He met European diplomats in Brasilia to "strengthen relationships with those countries that have recognized our efforts to recover democracy and achieve free elections," Guaido said on Twitter.

His team is studying the possibility of visiting Roraima state, the border area with Venezuela where four people were killed in weekend clashes with Maduro's security services, a source in his camp said.

Brazil and Colombia are Guaido allies that have been stockpiling the humanitarian aid he is trying to bring into Venezuela.

Guaido says 300,000 people face death without the food and medicine supplies.

A study by three Venezuelan universities indicated that 80 percent of households were "at risk of food insecurity because 90 per cent of the population (32 million) do not have enough income to buy food."

A concert organized by billionaire British entrepreneur Richard Branson on Friday raised $2.5 million in one week to help Guaido's aid effort, organizers said.

In New York, the UN Security Council was to vote on Thursday on two rival draft resolutions relating to Venezuela put forward by Russia and the United States, but both measures are expected to fail.

Diplomats say Russia and China are expected to resort to their vetoes to block the US resolution, while the Russian text will not garner the nine required votes for adoption.

Maduro's Foreign Minister, Jorge Arreaza called on Wednesday for a meeting between Trump and Maduro.

"The only thing to discuss with Maduro at this point is the time and date for his departure," Pence wrote on Twitter.