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Opposition Leader Juan Guaidó Returns To Venezuela After Warm U.S. Reception


Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido, fresh off a warm, bipartisan reception in Washington, has landed back home to a chaotic scene at the Caracas airport. Supporters of President Nicolas Maduro screamed at the opposition lawmakers who'd come to greet Guaido. NPR's Philip Reeves was at the airport and joins us now. And, Phil, can you just describe the scene of this arrival?

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Yes. It was pretty chaotic and somewhat of a hostile reception. It must be said. Guaido went overseas last year and came back to a cheering crowd of supporters. This time, he came back to a large crowd, but among the crowd, there were a lot of supporters of the government of Nicolas Maduro, who he's trying to oust. The government of Maduro clearly mobilized its supporters to give this hostile reception to Guaido. They chanted hostile slogans. They called for him to be imprisoned, to be arrested.

There's another reason there was a big crowd here. Only a couple of days ago, the U.S. sanctioned the Venezuelan state-run airline, Conviasa. And this is - this airport is the base for Conviasa, and many of its employees were out there waiting to greet Guaido in a hostile manner, partly to protest the sanctions but also to protest against his return.

CORNISH: How did Guaido respond to all this?

REEVES: He moved through the airport very quickly. He was being hectored by Maduro supporters as he walked through. People were throwing plastic water bottles. When he got into his car and drove away, someone threw a plastic cone at it. It was a very volatile scene. He - there were some opposition supporters - in other words, his supporters - who came to the airport to welcome him, including members of the National Assembly who supported him. They say they were stopped by the police.

And the Venezuelan military also stationed some armored vehicles on the road from the airport in a show of strength, which, I think, was designed to intimidate Guaido as he moved away from the airport. There were fights between supporters of Guaido and supporters of the government. It really was a pretty chaotic scene.

CORNISH: At the same time, there was speculation that the Maduro government had plans to jail Guaido the moment he arrived. What happened to that? Where did Guido head after he landed?

REEVES: Well, there's been debate about whether the Maduro government would do that or not. And I think the majority view was that Maduro wouldn't do it because he regards Guaido as much weaker now than he was a year ago and that, by arresting him, he would be playing into the hands of Guaido because there'll be an enormous international outcry from the 60 or so countries that recognize Guaido as the legitimate leader of this country. However, in a situation like this, nothing is certain, and there are certainly concerns among the opposition that that might happen.

CORNISH: And so what's Guaido's strategy against all this?

REEVES: It's a very big challenge now for Guaido because it's been more than a year since he really launched this campaign to oust Maduro, and he has now to find new ways of applying pressure to Maduro at a time when he's way weaker. And the economy here, though is still in a drastic condition, has somewhat stabilized. Maduro is stronger now than he has been in the recent past, and if you ask people what those ways are, it's very hard to get a straight answer from them. They tend to say, Guaido will show us what he intends to do when he arrives back in this country, which he has just done.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Philip Reeves in Caracas. Thanks for your reporting.

REEVES: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF ZALAGASPER SONG, "SEBI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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