Guaido Warns Supporters of Long Struggle After Aid Gambit Failed

(Bloomberg) -- Nine days after Juan Guaido’s attempt to spark a military rebellion with deliveries of humanitarian aid to Venezuela, he returned to acknowledge failure and warn supporters they face a long struggle for democracy.

“Can we call February 23 a success? Obviously not,” Guaido told supporters at a Caracas rally. “The world will help us, but it is up to us to continue.”

After days of speculation over how he would sneak back into Venezuela without being arrested, the opposition leader took a Copa Airlines flight straight to the nation’s biggest airport, effectively daring the government of President Nicolas Maduro to act against him. It didn’t -- or at least not immediately.

But Guaido is back where he was two weeks ago, with Maduro still in control of the security forces, despite the slow squeeze of U.S. oil sanctions and diplomatic pressure from dozens of governments calling for him to step down in the wake of a fraudulent re-election. The amnesty he promised soldiers who join his cause remains a mere bill that’s stuck in opposition-dominated National Assembly, of which he is president.

On Monday, some 20,000 Venezuelans rallied at a plaza in an east Caracas business district. Several elderly demonstrators fainted before Guaido finally arrived in a motorcade and climbed up a scaffolding onto the stage, where he and his wife hugged lawmakers before the roaring crowd.

Guaido Warns Supporters of Long Struggle After Aid Gambit Failed

Maduro had threatened him with punishment for violating an international travel ban, and Guaido told supporters that his ability to walk through Simon Bolivar International Airport unhindered suggests the government’s grip is weakening.

“After all those threats, it’s clear that someone didn’t follow through -- a lot of people didn’t follow through,” he said. “The chain of command is broken.”

Pence’s Threat

Carlos Romero, an analyst at Central University of Venezuela in Caracas, said it may simply reflect the government’s calculation that it would be less problematic to leave Guaido alone rather than risk a confrontation. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said in a Twitter post that any threats against the opposition leader would be "met with swift response."

Guaido called on supporters to take to the streets this coming Saturday, and also called for talks with unions. It’s unclear whether Maduro’s security forces will arrest Guaido in coming days for ignoring the travel ban, which he violated last month when he secretly crossed the border into Colombia to oversee a delivery of aid provided by the U.S.

That effort on Feb. 23 sparked vicious fighting at border crossings. It also set off a wave of desertions by Venezuelan troops stationed near the border that has reached more than 700, according to Colombian migration authorities.

Guaido’s Tour

The U.S. and dozens of allies say the Maduro government is illegitimate, and recognize Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president. Since he declared himself the nation’s rightful leader in January, the U.S. has taken an increasingly hard line against Maduro’s government in a high-stakes bid to unseat him. The U.S. has stepped up financial and oil sanctions intended to drive Maduro from office by depriving him of hard currency. But tactics have also led to warnings that the nation of 30 million may be nearing a famine as it loses its ability to pay for food imports.

Last week, Guaido met Pence in Bogota, then traveled to Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina and Ecuador to meet leaders of those countries. They all back his push to unseat Maduro, who is widely suspected of having stolen elections last year.

Despite his international support, Guaido’s position inside Venezuela is more precarious. The top military brass has so far stayed loyal to Maduro, who remains in control of other key institutions such as the Supreme Court.

Russia, China and Turkey still back Maduro’s government, though future financial support from those countries is a question mark and will be key to Maduro’s staying power.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.