Written by Ana Vanessa Herrero, Nicholas Casey and Katie Rogers
Juan Guaidó, the Venezuelan opposition leader, returned to the country Monday and gave a speech before cheering crowds in defiance of President Nicolás Maduro, who had threatened to have him arrested if he came back.
“We shout with resolve, ‘may oppression die,’” said Guaidó before supporters gathered in Caracas, the capital. “They threatened us with jail, with death, but nothing will happen through persecution.”
For days, it had been unclear whether Guaidó would be able to return to Venezuela after he flouted a court-imposed order not to leave the country and made a failed attempt to move truckloads of aid into the country over Maduro’s objections.
While Maduro has jailed his opponents freely in the past, he made no attempts Monday to impede Guaidó, showing what analysts said were the limits to his ability to dispatch the opposition with a crackdown.
Guaidó, who had spent the last week on a tour of South America, returned with the renewed backing of regional allies, many of whom sent diplomats to meet him at the airport.
Still, some warned Guaidó remains in danger in Venezuela.
“Of course, getting to Caracas accompanied by diplomatic officials doesn’t mean he won’t be arrested in the coming days,” said David Smilde, a senior analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America.
The United States is one of the more than 50 countries that recognize Guaidó as Venezuela’s rightful president until new elections can be held.
Guaidó, 35, has become the biggest challenge yet to Maduro’s presidency since he declared himself interim president in January on grounds that Maduro won a second term through fraud.
The struggle between the two has intensified as Venezuela, once Latin America’s most prosperous nation, has slid into its worst economic crisis, with Maduro accused by critics of corruption and mismanagement.
Maduro has called Guaidó a lackey of the Trump administration and attributed the country’s economic malaise to U.S. sanctions.
On Sunday, John Bolton, the White House national security adviser, said on Twitter that an arrest of Guaidó would be met with a response “from the United States and the international community.”