Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido has defied a travel ban to head to Colombia, where he is expected to meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as he seeks to boost support amid a power struggle with President Nicolas Maduro.
Recognised as Venezuela’s legitimate president by more than 50 countries, including the United States, Guaido had not left the country since February 2019, when he also defied the court-imposed ban to travel to Colombia.
Maduro accuses Guaido of being a coup-mongering puppet controlled by the White House.
Pompeo, who is scheduled to arrive in the Colombian capital, Bogota, on Monday at the start of a Latin American tour, said Guaido was “the duly elected leader of Venezuela”.
“I look forward to having a meeting with him,” Pompeo told reporters on a flight from Germany to Colombia. “Maduro has been destructive … Our mission set is to deliver a set of free and fair elections to the Venezuelan people.”
Pompeo and Guaido are reportedly expected to meet on Monday.
According to the Washington Post, Guaido plans to travel from Colombia to the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he will urge European officials to increase pressure on Maduro.
Senior figures in Venezuela’s opposition hope that Guaido will also get to meet US President Donald Trump in Davos, the newspaper said.
Guaido has been barred from leaving Venezuela since proclaiming himself acting president a year ago and declared Maduro a “usurper” who had secured re-election in a 2018 vote widely considered fraudulent.
Maduro, however, remains in power, backed by the military as well as Russia, China and Cuba and accuses the opposition of stirring up violence.
On Sunday, Guaido met Colombian President Ivan Duque at the presidential residence in Bogota.
In a Twitter post, Guaido said he was grateful for Duque’s support and said the trip would “generate the conditions that will lead us to freedom”.
“I can assure you that my return to our country will be full of good news,” he added.
Earlier this month, Venezuela’s ruling Socialist Party seized control of the National Assembly and swore in an allied politician who defected from Guaido’s camp.
Opposition legislators then voted Guaido in for a second term as congress chief in a separate session.
Pompeo at the time congratulated Guaido on his re-election.
In an interview published by the Washington Post on Saturday, Maduro said the Trump administration had underestimated his staying power and he “didn’t care” about sanctions.
Maduro has proposed holding parliamentary elections this year, with the aim of retaking control of the National Assembly, the only national institution in opposition hands.
Guaido, who has long demanded new presidential elections to replace Maduro, has pledged to fight any move to hold parliamentary elections with the Supreme Court and the National Election Council firmly under control of Maduro allies.