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Juan Guaidó in Miami: 'I was not going be one more Maduro political hostage'

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó speaks to reporters during a press conference in Coral Gables, Florida, on April 27, 2023.
Jose A. Iglesias
/
Miami Herald
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó speaks to reporters during a press conference in Coral Gables, Florida, on April 27, 2023.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó said Thursday in Coral Gables his freedom, if not his life, is now "threatened" by the Maduro regime — and that he fled earlier this week because he refused to become "one more political hostage delivered to the dictatorship" amid the struggle to restore democracy there.

Guaidó told reporters he secretly crossed into Colombia this week to avoid what he said was his "imminent" arrest by the government of President Nicolás Maduro, who is widely seen as a socialist dictator and whose security forces the U.N. has cited for crimes against humanity.

Once globally considered the country's constitutionally legitimate president, Guaidó had hoped to attend an international conference that was held Tuesday in Bogotá on how to re-start democratization talks in Venezuela.

But neither Venezuela's regime nor its opposition were invited to the gathering of 20 countries, which included a U.S. delegation. Guaidó said left-wing Colombian President Gustavo Petro’s government tried to deport him back to Venezuela, insisting he'd entered Colombia illegally.

But Guaidó, who denies that accusation, said "thanks only to the intervention of the U.S. government," he instead flew to Miami to "seek protection, not just for Juan Guaidó ... but for the struggle to hold transparent elections in Venezuela again," he said.

READ MORE: Venezuela's Juan Guaidó not seeking political asylum in US

Toward that end, Guaidó said next week he plans to meet in Washington D.C. with members of Congress on the Venezuela crisis. And he said one of his chief messages will be not to trust Petro as a mediator. “President Petro has put himself on the side of the Maduro dictatorship,” Guaidó said.

Guaidó’s critics say his Colombia foray was a stunt to revive his waning political relevance. In 2019 he became an international democracy hero when, as Venezuela's National Assembly president, he declared himself the country's constitutionally legitimate interim head of state, because Maduro was widely believed to have won re-election the year before illegally.

But Guaidó indicated on Tuesday he does not plan to run for president of Venezuela if credible elections are held next year, neither in the opposition primary race — which he accused Maduro of trying to manipulate to ensure a weak or even regime-friendly opposition candidate — nor in the general vote.

Replaced as standard-bearer

Venezuela's opposition coalition voted earlier this year to replace Guaidó as its standard-bearer and elected a new leader, Dinorah Figuera, who is currently in exile in Spain.

The U.S. and almost 60 other countries had previously recognized Guaidó as Venezuela's president. But the largely symbolic move never gained the international diplomatic traction it needed to persuade Venezuela's military — itself accused of drug trafficking — to abandon Maduro.

Maduro in turn has since become more entrenched in power than ever, despite sharp U.S. economic sanctions levied against his regime, including Venezuela's all-important state-run oil industry.

Maduro insists that lifting those sanctions — and giving his regime access to a billion-dollar U.N. aid fund to help stem Venezuela's grave humanitarian crisis — must happen before he agrees to democratic election reforms. The opposition and the Biden Administration insist it must be the other way around. Regime-and-opposition talks in Mexico City broke down over those issues last year.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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