Juan Guaido, risking arrest, arrives back in Venezuela after regional trip

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido returns to Venezuela after defying a travel ban last week, arriving at the country's main airport around noon local time. There had been fears the regime of Nicholas Maduro would seek to detain Guaido upon his return.

U.S. cautions Maduro government to allow Guaido safe return, free of arrest

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who many nations have recognized as the country's rightful interim ruler, talks to the media after his arrival at the Simon Bolivar International airport in Caracas, saying the mobilization against the Maduro presidency would continue. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido returned to Venezuela on Monday after defying a travel ban last week and urged supporters at a rally to intensify their campaign to topple the government of President Nicolas Maduro.

The 35-year-old leader of Venezuela's National Assembly showed off his passport before climbing onto scaffolding and pumping his fist during the demonstration in Caracas, delighting euphoric followers whose efforts to oust Maduro have fallen short in a nation gripped by a humanitarian crisis. 

Guaido tweeted that he was heading back to Venezuela ahead of planned anti-government protests in Caracas, and video footage captured him arriving at the Simon Bolivar International Airport about 40 kilometres from the capital around noon.

He said in a tweet he successfully passed through immigration checks.

"We know the risks that we face, that's never stopped us," the 35-year-old said.

"The regime must understand, the dictatorship must understand... that we're stronger than ever. We'll continue protesting, we'll continue mobilizing," he added.

There were few security forces nearby and no immediate comment from Maduro's government, which has tried to divert the public's attention to carnival festivities Monday and Tuesday.

While thousands of Venezuelans heeded Guaido's call for protests coinciding with his return, many wonder whether he can maintain momentum against a government that, while under extreme pressure itself, has relentlessly cracked down on opponents in the past, jailing or driving into exile top opposition leaders.

U.S. warnings to Maduro administration

The leader of the National Assembly, who has declared himself interim president of Venezuela, said the goal of his return is to intensify internal pressure on the Maduro government.

Several European ambassadors who support his campaign for a change of leadership in Venezuela were at the scene as he arrived Monday.

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton tweeted that threats or action by Maduro's government against Guaido would be "met with a strong and significant response from the United States and the international community."

Vice-President Mike Pence, who met with Guaido last week in Colombia, issued a similar warning on social media.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for dialogue by all parties to end the political impasse.

"We obviously remain very concerned about the situation in Venezuela," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. "It's important from the secretary-general's viewpoint that all actors — all political actors in Venezuela and abroad — make all efforts to lower tensions." 

In the past week, Guaido visited several Latin American countries despite a court-imposed travel ban that support his campaign against Maduro, who was re-elected last year in a vote that the opposition and dozens of foreign nations say was invalid.

In a recorded message posted on his Twitter account he said he was en route to his home and he would be with "the men and women I most admire" in a few hours.

The government has jailed dozens of opposition leaders and activists for seeking to overthrow Maduro through violent street demonstrations in 2014 and 2017, including Guaido's mentor, Leopoldo Lopez, who remains under house arrest.

Anti-government protesters rally to demand the resignation of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, as one holds a sign that reads in Spanish 'No more dictatorship' in Caracas on Monday. (Eduardo Verdugo/Associated Press)

The United States and about 50 other countries recognize Guaido as the rightful president of Venezuela, which is in the midst of a political and humanitarian crisis.

In recent messages to his supporters, Guaido has appealed for huge demonstrations coinciding with his arrival as a way to pressure Maduro to resign. Workers set up a stage in a Caracas plaza where demonstrators plan to gather, and protests were planned elsewhere in the country.

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Venezuela's vice-president, Delcy Rodriguez, did not directly address a question about whether Guaido would face arrest during a recent interview with Russian state-owned TV channel RT. But she left open the possibility, saying Guaido had broken the law and is "a Venezuelan who conspires with foreign governments to overthrow a constitutional government."

Maduro says he is the target of a U.S.-backed coup plot and receives support from a few regional countries, such as Cuba and Bolivia, as well as Russia and China.

With files from CBC News and Reuters