CARACAS – Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó is gearing up for the next stage of his campaign to oust President Nicolás Maduro following his return home from a tour abroad that included a meeting with his most important foreign ally — U.S. President Donald Trump.
An energized Guaidó told cheering supporters at a public square in the capital of Caracas late Tuesday that he is armed with the backing of the “free world” to finish the job of reclaiming the nation.
"Today more than ever we have to make our presence known," Guaidó said. “This is not the time to go back. It's time to move forward.”
Just hours earlier, Guaido sped through immigration at Venezuela's main airport outside Caracas without any major incidents. Authorities didn't stop Guaidó, who left the country in defiance of a travel ban imposed by Maduro's government.
But inside the terminal, a woman threw what appeared to be a soft drink can dousing Guaidó, who moments later walked from the airport pumping his right hand over his head.
And outside, an aggressive crowd of Guaidó critics foes shouted, “Dirty traitor!” and “Get out!” Some threw traffic cones and others pounded the hood of an SUV that whisked him away.
Guaidó backers shouted his name in support: “Guaidó! Guaidó!” A few minor clashes broke out between the two sides.
Guaidó launched the trip with the goal of redoubling backing in Washington and Europe for the oppositioin's effort to remove Maduro. The trip's high-point for Guaidó came with a meeting inside the Oval Office with Trump, the day after the U.S. president recognized him as the “legitimate president of Venezuela."
As leader of Venezuela's opposition-controlled congress, Guaidó rose to prominence a year ago by claiming presidential powers on the grounds that Maduro's rule is illegitimate after a fraudulent re-election in 2018. He won backing from the United States and more than 50 other nations, though so far has made no visible dent in Maduro's hold on power.
In addition to his stop in Washington, Guaidó met with European leaders including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Guaido told supporters at Tuesday night's rally that he is holding back some details from his foreign meetings that he is not able to talk about publicly.
“Stay tuned,” he said, teasing the crowd.
In public comments abroad, Guaidó urged foreign leaders to increase their support for Venezuelans who are trying to shrug off two decades of socialist rule that have left the country broken, with millions emigrating as public services like running water and electricity have become a luxury.
Officials in the Trump administration have said they are considering ways to exert more pressure to force out Maduro. On Friday, the administration hit the Venezuelan state-run airline CONVIASA with sanctions.
Guaidó urged Venezuelans to remain unified and to take to the streets again to demonstrate their will to end the government that the opposition calls a “dictatorship.” He did not immediately announce any plans for organized protests.
For his part, Maduro appeared on state television Tuesday to talk about public transportation, announcing new public buses and expanded routes. He didn’t directly mention Guaidó or the opposition leader’s return.
“We're concentrating our efforts on defending Venezuela,” Maduro said, telling supporters not to be distracted by “idiots" and “traitors.”
Scott Smith on Twitter: @ScottSmithAP
Associated Press writer Jorge Rueda contributed to this report.