Venezuelan president says arrest of Juan Guaid贸 "will come"

  • Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro holds up a copy of his country's case taken to the International Criminal Court regarding U.S. sanctions during a press conference at Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Feb. 14, 2020. Venezuela is demanding that Washington stop piling on punishing financial sanctions aimed at forcing a regime change in Venezuela. The international court must next decide whether it will open an investigation.

    Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro holds up a copy of his country's case taken to the International Criminal Court regarding U.S. sanctions during a press conference at Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Feb. 14, 2020. Venezuela is demanding that Washington stop piling on punishing financial sanctions aimed at forcing a regime change in Venezuela. The international court must next decide whether it will open an investigation. Associated Press

  • Opposition leader Juan Guaido waves to supporters during a rally at Bolivar Plaza in Chacao,  a municipality of Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. Guaido returned home from a tour of nations that back his effort to oust socialist leader Nicolas Maduro.

    Opposition leader Juan Guaido waves to supporters during a rally at Bolivar Plaza in Chacao, a municipality of Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. Guaido returned home from a tour of nations that back his effort to oust socialist leader Nicolas Maduro. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 2/14/2020 6:01 PM

CARACAS, Venezuela -- President Nicol谩s Maduro said Friday that Venezuelan authorities haven't detained opposition leader Juan Guaid贸 because the courts haven't ordered it, but he warned: '淚t will come.'

Maduro made the remark in a meeting with the international press three days after Guaid贸 returned from a tour to the U.S. and Europe, in defiance of a court order prohibiting him from leaving the country.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Despite the order, migration officials let Guaid贸 enter when he arrived on a commercial flight at Venezuela's main international airport.

Maduro said that the day Venezuela's justice system decides Guaid贸 should be imprisoned '渇or all the crimes he's committed,' he will be jailed. Venezuela's judicial system is stacked with pro-Maduro officials who routinely issue decrees in accordance with the president's viewpoints.

'淭hat day hasn't come yet, but it will come,' the president said in response to a question from The Associated Press.

The warning comes as Guaid贸 tries to revive momentum in Venezuela for his flagging opposition movement. Though U.S. President Donald Trump and other world leaders expressed their continued support during Guaid贸's recent trip abroad, many inside Venezuela have grown wary of the opposition as Maduro remains in the presidency and consolidates his power.

Guaid贸 did not respond to Maduro's threat Friday.

Dressed in a blue suit and seated before a giant portrait of South American independence hero Sim贸n Bol铆var, Maduro delivered an angry diatribe against U.S. sanctions that he likened to a '渟ick persecution" which he said has forced him to make difficult decisions to keep the economy afloat.

Nearly half of the population now makes purchases in U.S. dollars, according to Ecoanalitica, a Caracas-based analysis firm. The dollarization has helped fuel a limited revival of Venezuela's economy in cities like the capital, while also highlighting disparities between those who do and do not have access to dollar bills.

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Maduro loosened rigid currency controls in place for 16 years last May, allowing banks to buy and sell U.S. dollars at any exchange rate, making it far easier for entrepreneurs to operate in a currency accepted internationally.

'淗aving to choose whether to repress or permit, I chose to permit it,' he said of the growing dollarization. '淚t was a choice in the middle of a war. And that choice has allowed the economy to breathe.'

He added that he is "conscious of the inequality that arises in this process but we are at war.'

Maduro has held on to power despite runaway hyperinflation, a massive exodus and shortages of food and medicine - and growing international pressure that has left his socialist administration increasingly isolated.

In recent years the Trump administration has sanctioned Venezuela's state-owned oil company and empowered the Treasury Department to target businesses and individuals who assist Maduro's government.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Maduro also suggested forming a group of '渇riendly countries,' including Spain, Mexico and Panama, to help create a dialogue toward settling Venezuela's internal differences ahead of legislative elections expected later this year.

He said he already asked the leaders of Argentina and Russia to join the group, repeating a call for mediation that critics say is a well-worn delay tactic. A Norway-sponsored dialogue with the opposition floundered last year.

___

Associated Press writer Scott Smith reported this story in Caracas and AP writer Christine Armario reported from Bogota, Colombia.

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