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At Miami rally, Guaidó vows to ‘not stop’ until Venezuela sees freedom

Opposition leader Juan Guaido addresses a rally in Caracas, Venezuela, on March 4, 2019. (Valery Sharifulin/Tass/Abaca Press/TNS)

In an emotional and sometimes raucous reunion with Venezuela’s diaspora in South Florida, Juan Guaidó — the man struggling to seize control of the country — promised to keep fighting for freedom and democracy and asked the crowds not to give up hope on him or the cause.

Addressing thousands of people at the Miami Airport Convention Center, Guaidó, 37, said he planned to head back to Venezuela in coming days, despite the risk of being jailed or worse. And he said he would continue leading marches and taking actions to force Nicolás Maduro out of office.

“I will do everything within my reach — my only limitation is my life and that’s already dedicated to this cause,” he said.

But he also asked for unity from an often-fractious opposition. Among the most divisive issues is between those who favor a military solution and those who see it as a red line.

As the crowd chanted “Intervention! Intervention!” Guaidó said it wasn’t out of the question.

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“All the options are on the table and under the table also,” he said. “We will take all necessary actions — all responsible actions.”

“We have the support of the world, but let’s be clear,” he said. “When they come to help us, and they will help us, they must find us fighting on every street and every corner of Venezuela.”

Later, when pressed about whether he would ask President Donald Trump for a military intervention, Guaidó suggested it wasn’t entirely under his control.

“We need an urgent solution, for the stability of the region,” he said. “And we’ve been talking, responsibly, with our allies about all feasible actions.”

However, “the decisions regarding other actions are up to the presidents of those countries,” he added.

No Trump Meeting

The rally in Miami comes at the end of a whirlwind trip that has taken Guaidó to Colombia, Brussels, France, the United Kingdom and Canada, where he met with several heads of state.

There had been expectations that he might meet Trump during this trip.

As rumors swept the convention center that Trump, who is staying at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, FL, might attend the rally, the president sent out a Tweet of himself playing golf along with the message: “Getting a little exercise this morning!”

Even so, Guaidó was flanked by a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators and Representatives along with local officials. And those in the audience didn’t seem to take Trump’s absence as a slight.

“I didn’t think he [Trump] would show up but we know we have his support,” said Ramon Martinez, a Venezuelan in the crowd.

Taking off his jacket and rolling up his sleeves, Guaidó often sounded like a self-help coach — asking the audience not to give up on the dream of Venezuelan freedom.

“I have a message for the dictator,” he said. “We’re still fighting. We have a plan, we have a strategy and we have the backing of the world. We’re not alone and we’re going to rescue our democracy.”

Several thousand people battled heavy traffic over the Super Bowl weekend to see Guaidó on this, his first trip to the United States since beginning his quest to seize the presidency on Jan. 23, 2019.

“He’s fought like few other Venezuelans against this dictatorship,” said Xenia Perdomo, a Venezuelan who has spent the last year living in Miami. “What he’s doing here is beautiful.”

Perdomo was accompanied by her mother, Nancy Romero, who lives in Venezuela but was wrapping up a two-month visit to South Florida.

“This is such a coincidence,” she said. “I’ve been fighting [for Guaidó] in Venezuela and now I’m fighting for him here. Being part of an event like this has given me hope that we will be free soon.”

Guaidó, the president of the National Assembly, is considered the legitimate leader of Venezuela by the United States and more than 50 other countries.

Yet Maduro, who has been in power since 2013, still controls most branches of government and seems to have the loyalty of the upper ranks of the military.

Guaidó said that despite appearances, change is inevitable.

“It might not be today or tomorrow, but it’s coming,” he said. “I can also promise you victory. We are going to achieve liberty, because we’re not going to stop until we reach it,” he said.

While Guaidó’s visit was a shot in the arm for the morale of Venezulean exiles, he brought few new solutions to the table.

Hector Pacheco, a retired Venezuelan military officer, said he admired Guaidó’s leadership, even as he acknowledged that the young politician didn’t have the power to force Maduro out of office.

“He can’t do it alone,” Pacheco said. “As a military retiree, I am convinced that military action is what would work.”

Hemispheric Hope

Guaidó’s appeal extends beyond the Venezuelan community in South Florida. He’s also been embraced by Cuban and Nicaraguan exiles who identify with his struggle against an authoritarian regime.

“We’re here with Guaidó and anyone else who is against communism,” said Wilber Pérez, a Cuban national who has lived in Miami for 15 years.

Gladys Albarado, from Nicaragua, was selling Venezuelan, Cuban and Nicaraguan flags, as well as Donald Trump paraphernalia.

“We are the voice of the people who cannot speak in our own countries and we’re here looking for solutions to the problems in Venezuela and Nicaragua,” she said. “We have to liberate those countries and rid Cuba of communism.”

During a meeting with local leaders earlier in the day, Guaidó underscored that he needs everyone’s help to confront Maduro.

“This is a time for unity,” he said. “That’s a factor that will be fundamental to finish crossing the threshold of pain that so many of us Venezuelans are going through.”

“It’s our job,” he said, “to bring an end to this terror.”

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© 2020 Miami Herald