Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, recognized by the United States and over 50 other countries as the legitimate interim president, returned to his country on Monday after ten days traveling through South America to meet with other national leaders.
The United States sternly warned Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro not to arrest or harm Guaido when he returned.
Guaido was met at the airport in Caracas on Monday morning by cheering supporters, heavy security, and a protective group of senior diplomats from the United States, Europe, and Latin America.
“We came to ensure no one tries to harm Juan Guaido,” French ambassador Romain Nadal stated bluntly.
Maduro last week accused Guaido of breaking the law by leaving Venezuela in spite of a travel ban and stated he would “face justice” when he returned. U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton on Sunday night warned Maduro not to take any action against Guaido:
Venezuelan Interim President Juan Guaido has announced his planned return to Venezuela. Any threats or acts against his safe return will be met with a strong and significant response from the United States and the international community.
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) March 4, 2019
Vice President Mike Pence reiterated that warning on Monday morning:
.@JGuaido’s safe return to Venezuela is of the highest importance to the U.S. Any threats, violence, or intimidation against him will not be tolerated & will be met with swift response. The world is watching – Interim President Guaido must be allowed to re-enter Venezuela safely.
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) March 4, 2019
Guaido called for mass demonstrations to coincide with his return to Venezuela, and he appeared to get what he asked for on Monday:
Guaido’s return is a pivotal moment for the power structure in Venezuela. His absence clearly had a weakening effect on the opposition, which might begin falling apart if he effective went into exile with threats from Maduro ringing in his ears. His return is an unmistakable gesture of defiance against the Maduro regime, which will appear weak and blustery if it fails to take action against him, but will provoke a major international crisis and rally the opposition if it does.
“If the regime tries to kidnap me, to carry out a coup, we know the steps to take,” Guaido told his supporters on Sunday night. He said arresting him would be “one of the last mistakes” Maduro could make.
“Back in our beloved country! Venezuela, we just passed through immigration and we will now head to where our people are,” Guaido said on Twitter upon his arrival.