By Sinikka Tarvainen (dpa)
HAVANA TIMES – Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido returned to his country without being arrested on Monday, announcing a new round of anti-government protests and vowing not to give up until President Nicolas Maduro is ousted from power.
“Hope was born in order not to die,” Guaido told thousands of supporters who filled the Alfredo Sadel square in Caracas.
“The time to achieve change in Venezuela is now,” he said as the crowd chanted his name.
Guaido came to the rally from the airport. Migration officials greeted him with the words: “Welcome president, with lots of love and lots of respect,” the daily El Nacional quoted Guaido as saying.
The opposition leader, whom about 60 countries have recognized as Venezuela’s interim president, was also welcomed by supporters and several European and American ambassadors at the airport.
Guaido had left Venezuela on February 22 to visit neighboring Colombia to oversee an attempt to deliver humanitarian aid to Venezuela.
He also toured other South American countries in a bid to muster support for his anti-government campaign.
Maduro had said Guaido could be arrested for having left the country after he was prohibited from doing so by the Supreme Court.
But pressure mounted on the government not to detain the legislative leader, with US Vice President Mike Pence warning on Monday that his safe return to Venezuela “is of the highest importance to the US.”
“Any threats, violence or intimidation against him will not be tolerated and will be met with swift response,” Pence tweeted.
In his speech, Guaido pointed out that hundreds of soldiers had already turned against Maduro by crossing into Colombia. He said he would also try to rally public sector employees with whose trade unions he would meet on Tuesday.
Guaido also announced a new round of anti-government protests for Saturday. “All the support we have received and the backing we need will depend on us staying on the streets,” he tweeted.
Guaido had called for nationwide demonstrations to coincide with his return, with rallies reported in several parts of the country.
Maduro, who has presided over a massive economic crisis, won a second term in an election boycotted by most of the opposition last year.
The Guaido-headed National Assembly wants Maduro to resign so a transitional government can be formed and new elections held.
Guaido also wants to take humanitarian aid to hundreds of thousands of people who, he says, are facing acute food and medicine shortages.
The army has prevented aid trucks carrying hundreds of tons of supplies, donated by the US and Latin American countries, from crossing the borders of Colombia and Brazil.
US President Donald Trump has not excluded a military intervention if Maduro refuses to leave power. Virtually the rest of the world opposes a US invasion/war.