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Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, recognized as the nation's rightful president by the United States and nearly 60 other countries, defied a travel ban Sunday to make a surprise appearance in neighboring Colombia, the start of a global mission to shore up support for his movement.

The 36-year-old opposition leader is to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today in Bogota, according to people familiar with his plans. From Colombia, they say, he'll continue on to the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he will urge European officials to increase pressure on the socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro.

President Donald Trump is also expected to attend Davos this week. Senior figures in the Venezuelan opposition hope the two will meet in what could be a pivotal encounter for the movement.

Guaido's trip out of Venezuela -- he's been prohibited by the socialist government from leaving the country -- appeared aimed at breathing life into his crusade to oust Maduro. In an interview with The Washington Post, Maduro suggested he now had the upper hand in the U.S.-backed effort to force him from office, and it was time for direct talks with Washington.

Guaido's popularity, meanwhile, has flagged at home, where his backers have grown weary and frustrated. Critics say he underestimated the authoritarian Maduro, and overpromised the speed of a political transition they say is needed to alleviate the brutal economic crisis that has forced millions of Venezuelans to flee poverty and hunger.

The trip is Guaido's first outside Venezuela since last February, when he tried to push humanitarian aid into the country against a blockade ordered by Maduro. That confrontation ended with aid trucks on fire and skirmishes between opposition supporters and the Venezuelan military.

"Already in #Colombia, grateful to President Ivan Duque for his support of the struggle of the Venezuelan people," Guaido tweeted Sunday morning. "We will generate the conditions that will lead us to Freedom. And I assure you that the return to our country will be full of good news. Go Venezuela!"

Duque called Guaido "president" and said they would meet later Sunday.

"We welcome Venezuelan President Juan Guaido to Colombia," Duque tweeted. "This evening we will hold a working meeting. President Guaido will also participate, this Monday, in the Hemispheric Summit for the Fight against Terrorism."

Guaido's trip, people close to him say, is meant to force Maduro's hand. Speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss planning, they say he will certainly return -- setting up what they see as a potentially pivotal showdown with the socialist government in Caracas.

Should Maduro's government arrest Guaido, it could trigger new international sanctions, further isolating it internationally. Should it allow him to return without taking action, it could show weakness.

Information for this article was contributed by Mariana Zuniga of The Washington Post.

A Section on 01/20/2020

Print Headline: Opposition head defies Venezuelan travel ban

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