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Venezuela's Opposition Leader Hopes To Leverage High-Profile Trip


Venezuela's opposition leader has come home. Juan Guaido travelled to the United States and to Europe in recent weeks. To do that, he defied a travel ban imposed by the government he wants to overturn. Guaido reentered Venezuela at the Caracas airport with no problem, then encountered a hostile reception as he left that airport.


INSKEEP: NPR's Philip Reeves was in that noisy crowd and joins us now. Hi, Philip.


INSKEEP: What was happening there?

REEVES: Well, what you're hearing is a lot of so-called Chavistas - those are supporters of Maduro's government and the ruling Socialist Party. I mean, they heckled Guaido from the moment he arrived at passport control. Someone threw water at him. They yelled at him as he walked through the airport.

One reason is that in that crowd, there are a lot of employees from the state airline Conviasa that's based at the airport, which - and it was hit by sanctions, but - from the U.S. last week. And so some of those people that you heard there were from the airline, and they were protesting against those and protesting against Guaido's arrival. They included Elsa Villeda (ph).

ELSA VILLEDA: (Non-English language spoken).

REEVES: So she says Guaido should be arrested and imprisoned and that she's had enough of him, and her co-workers appeared to agree. But there were also opposition lawmakers there from the National Assembly, supporters of Juan Guaido. They say they had trouble trying to get to the airport because Maduro's security forces stopped them and made them get out of their vehicles. They had to walk the last few kilometers. They greeted Guaido, but it was very chaotic. He had his shirt pulled. He was jostled. People were throwing traffic cones at his car.


REEVES: And there were fights there between opposing sides. So it was a very different reception from the one he received nearly a year ago, when he returned from a foreign trip and awaiting him was a delegation of European diplomats and a U.S. diplomatic official and a crowd of cheering supporters - very different from that.

INSKEEP: Yeah. And when you say Maduro, of course, we're talking about President Nicolas Maduro, the president that Guaido wants to overturn, that the U.S. no longer recognizes as the legitimate president of Venezuela. Sounds like he does still have a certain amount of support or at least an ability to generate a crowd in certain situations, and yet Guaido seems to have a lot of support from outside the country.

REEVES: Yes, indeed. And the tour that he's just done was to try to galvanize that support because there's been some sign that he's been losing momentum within Venezuela. So while he was overseas, he went to Davos. He went - he met Boris Johnson; Emmanuel Macron, the French president; Angela Merkel, Donald Trump in the White House.

But what seems to have impacted and made, you know, an impression on Guaido's supporters here is the ovation he receives from both sides of the House at the U.S. Congress when he was a guest at the State of the Union address. And they include Henrietta Porchey (ph), who is part of Guaido's support team in Venezuela.

HENRIETTA PORCHEY: Everybody is with Guaido again, once again. People are - once again are recovering, like, the belief in Guaido.

REEVES: Why? Why has that changed?

PORCHEY: Well, we - I think the last thing that we have to lose is hope. If we lose hope, I think we lose the country, and we are all aware of that.

REEVES: So as you can see, she believes there is now some hope for Guaido. Guaido went off after that to a plaza in Caracas and made a speech, saying he plans to finish the job, in his words, of reclaiming the nation. But as you said, this trip was in violation of a travel ban imposed by the Maduro-controlled judiciary. Government officials here from the Maduro government often threatened Guaido with arrest for that. So far, Maduro has held back because he knows this could cause an international outcry of his to arrest him. But who knows what will happen next?

INSKEEP: NPR's Philip Reeves in Caracas. Thanks.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.