Venezuela Opposition Leader Defies Travel Ban to Woo Support Abroad

Venezuela Opposition Leader Defies Travel Ban to Woo Support Abroad

MARACAIBO, Venezuela — Venezuela’s opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, defied a travel ban and crossed into Colombia on Sunday to round up greater international support for regime change in Venezuela.

Mr. Guaidó, who is recognized by the United States and more than 50 countries as Venezuela’s president, and his fellow opposition members are facing increased repression, and his popularity at home is waning.

So, under growing pressure to score even a minor victory against the government of President Nicolás Maduro, he has once again turned to diplomacy — one of his strong suits — to shore up support from allies abroad.

“Now in Colombia,” Mr. Guaidó said on Twitter on Sunday. “I assure you the return to our country will be full of good news.”

Mr. Guaidó was to meet with the Colombian president, Iván Duque, who welcomed him with his own tweet on Sunday, and with Mike Pompeo, the United States secretary of state, who is visiting Bogotá ahead of a trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Mr. Guaidó is also bound for Davos.

After years in which President Maduro used repression and electoral machinations to stay in power, despite a crippling recession that left many without enough to eat or adequate medical care, Mr. Guaidó, the head of the country’s National Assembly, challenged his leadership. About a year ago, pronouncing the most recent presidential election a fraud, he declared himself interim president and called for new elections.

President Trump endorsed the opposition leader just minutes after that declaration, and he has remained one of Mr. Guaidó’s strongest international supporters. He followed up his initial recognition with a series of punishing economic sanctions aimed at Mr. Maduro and his government in an attempt to force him to cede power.

But as Mr. Guaidó’s campaign to take power waned over the past year, Washington eased the pressure on Mr. Maduro and turned its attention to the Middle East. That allowed Mr. Maduro to adapt to sanctions, stabilize exports and consolidate political power.

In a sign of the government’s growing confidence, this month Mr. Maduro moved to take over the opposition’s last stronghold, the National Assembly. The government tried to block opposition lawmakers, including Mr. Guaidó, from entering the building, and it installed in their place a rival congressional leadership made up of defectors from the opposition. Most Western and Latin American countries considered the move illegal.

Mr. Guaidó’s trip on Sunday, which he did not announce ahead of time, sets up a critical test for Mr. Maduro.

If Mr. Maduro arrests Mr. Guaidó upon his return to Venezuela, that could rally domestic and international support around the opposition leader. But if Mr. Maduro allows him to return, he could seem powerless to enforce his own government’s travel ban.

Mr. Guaidó had defied the travel ban in the past, crossing into Colombia through illegal trails controlled by criminal gangs in February to meet with regional leaders. He returned in spectacular fashion to cheering crowds a week later, receiving an entry stamp at the country’s main international airport, despite a series of criminal investigations opened against him by the government.

While that trip created a short-term boost for Mr. Guaidó, it yielded few tangible gains and left the opposition without a leader at a crucial time in its struggle against Mr. Maduro.

Julie Turkewitz reported from Maracaibo, and Anatoly Kurmanaev from Caracas.

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