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Venezuela's Opposition Leader Guaidó Holds Rally In Miami

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, HOST:

Thousands of Venezuelan expatriates turned out in Miami yesterday for a raucous rally held by opposition leader Juan Guaido. The U.S. and many other countries recognize him as Venezuela's legitimate president. But after many months of street demonstrations and tough sanctions by the Trump administration, President Nicolas Maduro still holds power in Caracas. From Miami, NPR's Greg Allen reports Guaido's Miami appearance is part of an international tour to build support for the movement to oust Maduro.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: This was Juan Guaido's first visit to Florida since he declared himself, as head of the National Assembly, acting president a year ago. South Florida is home to the nation's largest Venezuelan community, many of whom fled here to escape the repressive policies of Hugo Chavez and his successor, Nicolas Maduro. More than 3,000 people gathered hours early at a convention center to see Guaido, breaking more than once into their national anthem.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in Spanish).

ALLEN: When Guaido took the stage, he had a message for Venezuelans at home and abroad in places like Miami - the movement to oust Maduro is strong. When Guaido returns to Venezuela, he said he had a strategy and a plan to restore democracy there.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JUAN GUAIDO: (Speaking Spanish).

ALLEN: "We have the support of the world," he said. "But let's be very clear. When they help us - and they are going to help us - they will find us fighting on every street, on every corner of Venezuela."

With Guaido onstage, there was an impressive show of bipartisan congressional support - four Florida House members, plus Senator Rick Scott. This is the last stop on his tour to build international support. It comes at a time when many believe his movement at home may be flagging. The large, street-filled demonstrations that followed his naming as president last year have dissipated, and Maduro seems to be more in control than ever. Asked about that at a news conference, Guaido bristled.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GUAIDO: (Speaking Spanish).

ALLEN: "There's no difference today," Guaido said. "We have to confront the dictatorship, and the backing of the international community is very important for the Venezuelan cause."

Guaido, however, was vague about exactly what kind of help he wants from the international community. At the rally and later, at the news conference, he didn't ask for or endorse military intervention from the U.S. or others, but he pointedly didn't rule it out either.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GUAIDO: (Speaking Spanish).

ALLEN: "We are looking at any necessary options we can to confront this criminal," he said. "We're not going to sit here with crossed arms. We are going to look for help."

One of the Venezuelan Americans in the audience, Mapi Tudela, said people in Venezuela are suffering from shortages of food, medicine and fuel. She said the international community has acted before to stop dictators and should do so again.

MAPI TUDELA: It's a moment where we cannot do it alone, and we truly need help. And I believe this Guaido's visit to the outside world will give us a hand and will help us.

ALLEN: At the rally, Guaido got a big cheer when he announced he'd return to Venezuela in a few days, despite the risk that he could be arrested or harmed by forces loyal to Maduro. But first, he hopes to meet with President Trump, who happens, this weekend, to be at Mar-a-Lago, his private club in South Florida.

Aliveth Suarez, who drove 250 miles from Orlando to attend the rally, says that meeting would be big.

ALIVETH SUAREZ: I am 28 years old, and my whole life has been living under the dictatorship of Chavez and now Maduro. So now the fact that we have a president that is fighting for our country, that is going to meet with the president of the United State (ph) is something historic for us.

ALLEN: Asked at the news conference whether he still expected to meet with President Trump, Guaido had just a two-word answer - stay tuned.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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