Washington cranks up Venezuela sanctions as Guaido tours South America


Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido returned to his country on Monday after flouting a court-imposed travel ban by touring Latin American countries to boost support for his campaign to tighten regional pressure on President Nicolas Maduro.

The convoy failed to enter the country, resulting in clashes between Guaido's supporters and the Venezuelan military that left four dead and hundreds injured.

"We hope there won't be any escalation and that parliamentary immunity is respected", said Spanish Ambassador Jesus Silva Fernandez.

Maduro has denied the existence of a humanitarian crisis within his country.

"With Guaido stating his return is imminent, his defiance of the travel ban opens the doors for his possible arrest as Maduro told ABC News last week that "[Guaido] can come and go [but] he will have to face justice, and justice prohibited him from leaving the country.

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"The regime must understand, the dictatorship must understand. that we're stronger than ever".

The leader of the National Assembly, who has declared himself interim president of Venezuela, said the goal of his return is to intensify internal pressure on the government of President Nicolas Maduro.

The United States, which has warned Maduro not to act against Guaido, congratulated the opposition leader on his return to Venezuela.

"Any threats or acts against his safe return will be met with a strong and significant response from the United States and the worldwide community", National Security Adviser John Bolton wrote on Twitter. Colombian President Ivan Duque tweeted that Guaido's homecoming was part of the "irreversible path that Venezuela has taken toward democracy". The United Nations secretary general, in turn, called for dialogue to resolve the crisis.

And he said it's important that "all political actors in Venezuela and overseas make all efforts to lower tensions".

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The Spanish FM also emphasized Washington's role in fermenting the crisis, stating that he has "no doubt" that the U.S. has been the driving-force behind the chaos gripping the South American country since Maduro's inauguration on January 10. The United States has also imposed oil sanctions on Venezuela, which has the world's largest oil reserves.

In the last week, Guaido visited several Latin American countries that support his campaign against Maduro, who was re-elected a year ago in a vote that the opposition and dozens of foreign nations say was invalid.

Venezuela's vice president, Delcy Rodriguez, did not directly address a question about whether Guaido faces arrest during a recent interview with Russian state-owned TV channel RT.

Among the demonstrators who waited for Guaido at the Caracas rally was Wilfredo Moya, a 55-year-old former construction worker who said Venezuelans hoping for change should be patient.

The government has jailed dozens of opposition leaders and activists for seeking to overthrow Maduro through violent street demonstrations in 2014 and 2017, including Guaido's mentor, Leopoldo Lopez, who remains under house arrest.

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