MEXICO CITY (AP) — Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó on Tuesday said he is not seeking political asylum in the United States and has not ruled out the possibility of running in a presidential primary in his homeland planned for October.
Guaidó spoke to The Associated Press by phone from Miami, where he arrived on a commercial flight that departed Colombia’s capital Monday night, hours after he crossed the border between that country and Venezuela with the intent of meeting with diplomats and other participants of an international conference focused on Venezuela’s political crisis.
“I will have work meetings and obviously also time to assess the security situation among other things,” he said. “I am not requesting political asylum at this time.”
His remarks came after Colombian authorities said he was subject to an administrative process for having crossed the border without getting his passport stamped upon entry. Colombian President Gustavo Petro insisted Guaidó was not deported and traveled to the United States with permission from that country.
Guaidó told the AP the U.S. government intervened when he was threatened with deportation after he crossed the border and intended to take a flight from Cucuta, a Colombian city near the border, to Bogota.
“Basically, there was a threat that this could be grounds for deportation,” he said. “That was via telephone (with) diplomatic officials… It was thanks to the mediation of the United States that in my case I feel that I was not deported.”
He said a U.S. government official handed him the ticket to Miami after Colombian immigration agents escorted him to the airport in Bogota. His wife and two daughters remain in Venezuela, for which he is deeply worried. He said he is exploring “all options” regarding their future.
Guaidó became one of the most recognizable figures of Venezuela’s opposition after the re-election of President Nicolás Maduro in 2018 was deemed a sham by several countries. Guaidó, in his position as head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, declared himself interim president in 2019 with the backing of dozens of nations, including the U.S., and ran a parallel government.
But his popularity has waned since then and opposition lawmakers voted in January to strip him of that role and instead appoint a committee to run that government.
Guaidó has recently been campaigning ahead of a planned October primary in which the opposition intends to choose a single candidate to face off against Maduro in a presidential election next year. On Tuesday, he said the primary “continues to be a very important objective in the short term.”
“At this moment, I have this situation of persecution, and to rule out anything at this moment would simply be to accept the conditions of a dictatorship,” he said in reference to his participation in the primary. “On the contrary, we are fighting for conditions for all.”
Guaidó had recently denounced an increase in threats against him in Venezuela. Until Monday, Guaidó had not left his country since 2020.
Maduro’s government has filed almost three dozen cases against Guaidó since he declared himself interim president. The alleged crimes range from usurpation of functions, corruption, money laundering and public incitement to disobey the law, to conspiracy with foreign governments and terrorism.
Tuesday’s international conference organized by Petro was meant to jumpstart official dialogue between Maduro’s government and his adversaries. The formal negotiations between both sides guided by Norwegian diplomats and hosted by Mexico stalled at the end of last year.
Colombia’s Foreign Minister Álvaro Leyva on Monday said Guaidó was not invited to the conference, which was attended by representatives of the U.S. as well as Latin American and European countries. Guaidó had said he planned sideline meetings with delegates.
Petro and Maduro have said they would seek an end to economic sanctions that the U.S. imposed on Venezuela. At the of the five-hour conference, which was not attended by representatives of Maduro or his adversaries, Leyva read a brief statement in which he said participants agreed it is necessary for Venezuela’s government and opposition parties to set an electoral calendar that ensures free and fair conditions for all involved.
Levya also said participants found consensus around lifting sanctions if there is progress in negotiations.
Venezuela’s complex social, political and economic crisis has driven more than 7 million to migrate, mostly to Latin American and Caribbean countries. The largest share — more than 2 million — live in Colombia, which under the administration of Petro’s predecessor, Iván Duque, offered many of them a variety of benefits, including 10-year permits.
Duque was one of Maduro’s strongest critics and had no diplomatic relations with Venezuela’s government. But Petro, Colombia’s first leftist president, reestablished diplomatic and commercial relations with Venezuela after he was sworn in in August and has met with Maduro four times in person.
Migrants and people who live near the border go from one country to the other every day without getting their passports stamped — both through official crossing bridges and illegal dirt roads — and face no consequences.
Guaidó, who has continuously criticized Petro’s policies toward Maduro, said Monday’s threat of deportation was purely a political move against him.
“A Venezuelan crossing the border looking for food, food, shelter, protection from a dictatorship is not a novelty at all,” he said. “So I believe that this undoubtedly establishes a position on the part of President Petro and his government… If the president wants to be the interlocutor of the dictator, then that will be his role.”
South Florida is home to a large Venezuelan community that began to arrive mainly after Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, rose to power in 1999.
From there, Guaidó said, he will keep “fighting to make our vote count.”