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In Venezuela, Opposition Leader Juan Guaidó Returns Despite Risk Of Arrest


Now to Venezuela, where opposition leader Juan Guaido returned to cheering crowds today despite the risk of arrest.


CORNISH: This was his welcome as he stepped into the arrivals area at Caracas international airport. Despite a court-imposed travel ban, Guaido secretly left the country more than a week ago to support an effort, which ultimately failed, to bring U.S. humanitarian aid into Venezuela. Then towards several Latin American countries sympathetic to his campaign to overturn the government of Nicolas Maduro.

NPR's Philip Reeves is in Caracas now. He joins us. And Phil, to start, there was some concern that Guaido could be arrested. Can you talk more about what happened?

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Well, he arrived at the airport smiling broadly and looking very relaxed actually. He gave the V for victory sign. He shook people by the hand. He was with his wife. He was engulfed by a scrum of supporters and photographers. And waiting for him also was a delegation of foreign diplomats, including from the U.S., who'd been invited there by Juan Guaido's team. They were concerned that Guaido might be arrested on arrival at the airport for violating that travel ban. But they argue that that would be illegal, as he has immunity as a member of the National Assembly.

And there's still concern now, now that he's back in country, that he might be arrested in the near future. And it's still unclear what the international community would do about that. The U.S. has said there would be a strong response from them.

CORNISH: In the meantime, Guaido has vowed to continue his fight to oust President Nicolas Maduro. Has he talked about how he's going to do that?

REEVES: Yeah. After arriving at the airport, he went in a convoy to downtown Caracas to a plaza where there was a big crowd of many thousands of people waiting for him to greet him. He made a speech, and he announced plans to meet tomorrow with public employees. They've historically been allied with the government of Nicolas Maduro and Chavismo. And he also announced plans for a major march on Saturday.

But it's not really clear if he's got any very new tactics up his sleeve. His campaign began nearly six weeks ago. People are asking what's next. And among the crowd was Tita Beaufrand, a graphics designer who's 52. I asked her where Guaido should now take his campaign, and this was his her reply.

TITA BEAUFRAND: Oh, there's certainly no going back. I've been marching on the streets of Caracas 18 years with this same flag that I'm wearing today. And I've been shot at. I've been - I've had to run. I had to breathe gas. And Guaido is a blessing. He is the right man at the right time at the right place.

CORNISH: Phil, is this a sign that Venezuela's opposition has been re-energized by Guido's campaign?

REEVES: I think it has to some degree. People have been and I think are still worried that it could be losing momentum. Guaido's supporters were therefore very relieved to see him today because many are worried about that. Listen, for example, to Jose Vincente Guevara, who was also at today's demonstration.

JOSE VINCENTE GUEVARA: We really didn't realize that will be so difficult reaching this moment because we have 20 years fighting for this. And we thought that we will easier. But really we are realizing that it's continue being very difficult.

REEVES: So I think people are - it's beginning to dawn on people that they're in for a long campaign here possibly.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Philip Reeves. Phil, thank you.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Philip Reeves
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.