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Venezuela bracing for further unrest, Gaido back in the country



By Argus

Petroleumworld 03 05 2019

Venezuela is bracing for the possibility of more unrest today after opposition leader Juan Guaido returned from a week-long regional tour.

Guaido arrived today at Maiquetia International Airport to throngs of supporters and diplomats from the US, EU and Latin America, who said they were there to witness his safe return.

"We know the risk we are facing," he told reporters on his arrival in response to a question about his possible arrest. He pledged that the opposition would remain on the streets.

In a rambling broadcast from an undisclosed location last night, Guaido urged Venezuelans to stay mobilized if he is arrested.

The US and other countries have warned of consequences to the government of Nicolas Maduro should Guaido suffer the same fate as some of his predecessors in the opposition, but none are considering military action .

"Any threats or acts against (Guaido's) safe return will be met with a strong and significant response from the United States and the international community," US national security adviser John Bolton tweeted, without specifying what action might be taken.

In January, the US toughened its stance with oil sanctions that started with a ban on the sale of US products . Venezuelan crude sales to the US market are effectively halted as well.

In response to Guaido's call for nationwide protests today starting at 11am local time, the streets of Caracas and other cities filled with supporters today.

He promised to later provide more details on organizing public-sector workers. And he called again for Venezuela's armed forces to "assume their historic responsibility" of supporting a political transition.

So far, Venezuela's senior ranks have stayed on Maduro's side. Some 700 national guard and police have fled to neighboring Colombia, a fraction of the total.

"Tomorrow we return to the streets all over Venezuela," said Guaido last night, speaking for around 40 minutes over social media platforms. "We can count on the world. We are not alone. It has to be us, Venezuelans, who push this."

His tour last week took in Colombia, Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina and Ecuador, which are among the more than 50 countries including the US that recognize him as Venezuela's interim president. He said Venezuela's "petro-diplomacy" had failed and that there is a regional shift toward compelling Maduro to leave office, establishing a transition government and holding free elections.

Under late president Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's state-owned oil company PdV promised downstream investment in numerous countries, such as Ecuador where the 300,000 b/d Pacific refinery was to be built. All of the ambitious project plans were abandoned.

Guaido slipped out of Venezuela on 22 February to attend a humanitarian aid concert in the Colombian border city of Cucuta, one of three staging areas for collecting food and medical supplies that the opposition had vowed would be delivered into the troubled country the next day. Most of the aid trucks were blocked by Venezuelan national guard and irregular forces at the border, and two burned in disputed circumstances inside Venezuela. Violent clashes ensued just over the borders of Colombia and Brazil . Those borders are now closed.

Maduro maintained that the aid was a pretext for a US invasion. Washington has quietly dismissed military action, in line with the 25 February message of the Lima Group of Latin American countries and Canada that strongly rejected armed action.

Maduro, who took power in 2013 after Chavez's death, has warned that Guaido would face justice upon his return, partly for violating an order to stay in the country.

Most of Venezuela's opposition leaders are in prison or in exile, including Guaido mentor Leopoldo Lopez who is currently under house arrest. He was first detained in 2014.

Guaido is president of Venezuela's National Assembly, seen by Western countries as the last democratic institution in the Opec country. He declared his interim presidency on 23 January, and swiftly garnered recognition from Washington and a host of other nations. His arrest would be a major blow to the opposition, which is united behind him after years of fractures.

Among Maduro's international supporters are Russia, China, Turkey and Cuba.




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