Venezuelan Opposition Figure Flees Country, Arrives in U.S.

Juan Guaidó landed in Miami, marking the end of an attempt to undercut Nicolás Maduro’s regime with a parallel government.

Tuesday - 25/04/2023 21:37 Author: Editors Desk Source: WSJ:
Juan Guaidó said he left Venezuela because his family was threatened. PHOTO: GABY ORAA/REUTERS
Juan Guaidó said he left Venezuela because his family was threatened. PHOTO: GABY ORAA/REUTERS

BOGOTÁ, Colombia—Venezuelan opposition figure Juan Guaidó, who had led a pro-democracy movement with the support of the U.S. and dozens of countries, landed Tuesday in the U.S. after fleeing his homeland.  

Mr. Guaidó had remained a notable figure in the Venezuelan saga even though the opposition stripped him of his position in January when the parallel government he ran was dissolved. In describing his exit from Venezuela, Mr. Guaidó said that his family was under threat.

Mr. Guaidó’s departure stunned many of his supporters in Venezuela and abroad.

“Guaidó’s exit shows that in Venezuela there is no respect for human rights, no respect for civil rights and for those who are not in Nicolás Maduro’s party,” said Gaby Arellano, a Venezuelan opposition activist who lives in Colombia. “He is a victim of the persecutions and threats.”

Mr. Guaidó landed at Miami International Airport at 4 a.m. Tuesday after taking a circuitous journey from Caracas to the Colombian border, which he said he had crossed on foot before making his way to the capital. In a video on his Twitter account, Mr. Guaidó said he was expelled by Colombia’s leftist government after arriving in Bogotá to attend a U.S.-backed international diplomatic conference to discuss the political future of Venezuela.

“After 60 hours on the road to get to Bogotá, avoiding the dictatorship’s persecution, defying the Maduro regime, they are taking me out of Colombia,” Mr. Guaidó said in the video, which he shot himself from inside a plane. “These have been hard hours like for millions who migrate, who have sought refuge. Today, I personally know what it is like to do it.”

More than 7 million Venezuelans have in recent years fled their homeland, with the highest number of people—some 2.5 million—settling in Colombia, according to the United Nations and Colombian government data.

Colombia’s president, Gustavo Petro, and the country’s Foreign Ministry responded in a statement that the opposition leader had entered Colombia in “an irregular manner,” meaning without being processed by migration authorities.

“Once notified, the alleged violator of immigration law left the country,” the ministry said Tuesday.

Hours later, Colombian Foreign Minister Álvaro Leyva told reporters that Mr. Guaidó left the country voluntarily, with the help of the U.S. He said that Mr. Guaidó actions were intended to “produce noise.”

“We haven’t closed the doors to anyone, this is not a country that expels,” he said. “It is a country that seeks to enforce the law.”

Mr. Guaidó had said in a statement on Monday that he had wanted to attend the conference on Venezuela organized by Mr. Petro to discuss the future of elections in Venezuela, U.S. sanctions against Mr. Maduro’s government and other issues. Mr. Guaidó and other opposition leaders have been pressing for a resumption of stalled negotiations with Mr. Maduro’s government that would lead to free and fair elections.

U.S. Rep. María Elvira Salazar, (R., Fla.), said she would ask President Biden to grant Mr. Guaidó asylum.

“Welcome to Miami,” she said in a Twitter message to Mr. Guaidó. “Here, we support the democratic forces in Venezuela and not the dictatorship of Maduro and his accomplices.”

Mr. Guaidó couldn’t be reached to comment about his future. A spokesman for the opposition leader said his original plans were to attend Mr. Petro’s conference, travel to the U.S. and Europe and then return to Venezuela.

Eduardo Battistini, who was his representative in Colombia in the parallel government, said he expected the opposition leader to continue working against Mr. Maduro.

“One of the biggest dangers that the Venezuelan diaspora faces is that we fall into the Cuban situation, which is simply becoming resigned and critical but not being a motor for change,” he said, referring to Cuban exiles, who have been unable for more than 60 years to bring democratic change to their homeland.

The U.S. Embassy in Bogotá and the State Department didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment about the circumstances of Mr. Guaidó’s departure. A White House official confirmed that the U.S. helped Mr. Guaidó’s departure from Colombia.

Under Mr. Petro’s predecessor, President Iván Duque, Colombia had broken relations with Venezuela over its antidemocratic governance and strongly backed Mr. Guaidó. Mr. Petro has restored relations, opening up the 1,400-mile border with Venezuela and meeting with Mr. Maduro. Mr. Guaidó had been publicly critical of Colombia’s new position on Venezuela.

Mr. Petro, who met last week at the White House with Mr. Biden, has called for an end to U.S. sanctions against Venezuela. The two leaders issued a joint statement in which they said they had a “shared commitment to support and contribute to the solution of the situation in Venezuela.”

The conference Tuesday hosted by Colombia includes diplomats from the European Union and 19 countries, including the U.S. Neither Mr. Maduro’s representatives nor the opposition was to attend, and Mr. Leyva issued a statement Monday saying Mr. Guaidó hadn’t been invited. “We have to hope that it is successful, we have to support all efforts from the free world,” said Mr. Battistini. “If Venezuela doesn’t have a free presidential election in 2024, then the vote won’t be recognized by the international community, and Venezuela will continue in its deep crisis.”

Ryan Dube in Lima, Peru, and Jenny Carolina González in Bogotá, Colombia, contributed to this article.

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