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World

Juan Guaidó To Return To Venezuela After Tour Of Latin America

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Juan Guaido has arrived in Caracas today. Venezuela's opposition leader and self-declared leader of the country has been risking arrest by doing this. The opposition leader is the man who left the country some days ago, met with Vice President Mike Pence in Colombia, has traveled to other countries in the region and has now, we are told, arrived in Caracas, Venezuela, on a flight from Panama City, Panama. He has been in the region as the United States attempts to support his efforts to supplant Nicolas Maduro as leader of the country. NPR's Philip Reeves has been covering this story from Caracas, Venezuela, the capital of the country. And we reached him a bit earlier. Hi, Philip.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Hi.

INSKEEP: Do Venezuelan authorities plan to let Guaido in?

REEVES: Well, we don't know. We don't know whether they'll let him in, but we don't know whether they'll arrest him. It's certainly possible that he'll be arrested. He left Venezuela the week before last, as you mentioned, to coordinate an opposition effort to bring in humanitarian aid. And that trip by Guaido was in violation of a travel ban imposed by the Supreme Court, which Maduro controls.

And he said - Maduro said - in a recent interview that Guaido must face justice on his return, but he wasn't very specific about what he meant by that. Detaining him would move - remove Guaido from the center stage, a formidable young opponent who's unified the opposition and has this wide international support. But it would be risky, Steve.

INSKEEP: What would be risky about it, from the Nicolas Maduro point of view?

REEVES: Well, there'd certainly be retaliatory measures from the U.S., very likely more sanctions. There would be a massive outcry from Guaido's dozens of other international allies. The EU's warned that this would be a major escalation in tensions. And there'll be a lot of anger from the multitude of Guaido's supporters here in Venezuela.

Guaido himself says that any attempt by Maduro's government to detain him would be - as he put it - without doubt, one of that government's last mistakes. So we don't know, Steve. I mean, it's not clear that Maduro's concluded that he's in a strong enough position to do this. But it is a possibility.

INSKEEP: And I guess we don't know if Guaido intends to go to a border crossing and present his passport or if he intends to sneak in some way. Is it known what path he plans to take?

REEVES: No, I mean, Guaido's team have been keeping that very secret. He was in Ecuador yesterday, the latest stop of a trip around Latin America to meet the region's leaders. And last night, he appeared on social media via video link and told everyone, see you tomorrow. Of course, he didn't say where he was.

He's called for his supporters to hold nationwide demonstrations at 11 o'clock this morning, local time. The speculation that if he's to arrive in Caracas in time to appear at those, he could take a commercial flight from Panama City or Bogota. But that would potentially set the stage for a showdown with the authorities at the airport. Truth is, Steve, no one here knows how he's going to get here.

INSKEEP: Philip, what's it like in Caracas where you are?

REEVES: It's strange. It's tense. It's supposed to be a Carnival holiday here, Steve, today and tomorrow. But the country, as you know, is in a deep economic and political crisis. Guaido's supporters are eagerly awaiting for him - his return. Those mass demonstrations today will probably be big, because all the ones he's called in the last six weeks have been huge. So there'll probably be tens of thousands, I would imagine, that might turn up in the streets here today.

Meanwhile, Maduro's government's been trying to create a Carnival atmosphere on state-run TV. They've got a hashtag that says, you know, Carnival is happiness. And they've been encouraging everyone here to go to the beach and enjoy themselves, though Guaido has pointed out that there really is not much to celebrate in Venezuela right now.

INSKEEP: And not a lot of people can afford, necessarily, a vacation. Philip, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

REEVES: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Philip Reeves. He's reporting today from Caracas, Venezuela. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.