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Venezuela's opposition leader says he will begin exercising his 'duties as president'

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CNN's Nick Paton Walsh speaks with Venezuela's self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido about what he will do when he returns to Venezuela from Colombia where he met with US Vice President Mike Pence.

Posted: Feb. 27, 2019 2:00 PM
Updated: Feb. 27, 2019 2:00 PM

Venezuela's self-declared interim president Juan Guaido says he will exercise his "duties as president" as soon as he returns to Venezuela from Colombia where he met Monday with US Vice President Mike Pence.

In a message posted to Twitter, Guaido said he will provide "an audio with the next instructions."

"I ask you to massively spread our message," he wrote on Twitter. "Nothing will stop us."

Guaido, the head of Venezuela's opposition-led legislature, declared himself acting president of Venezuela in January and is battling President Nicolas Maduro for control of the country.

Guaido met with Pence and Colombian President Ivan Duque this week in Bogota, Colombia, where a meeting of the Lima Group -- a diplomatic body created to help mitigate the Venezuelan crisis -- was taking place.

The meeting followed a weekend of violent clashes in Venezuela, where the military has blocked aid convoys from entering the country.

Guaido has called for other nations to send aid to Venezuela in response to worsening food and medicine shortages. But Maduro -- who won re-election in a widely-criticized vote last year -- denies that a humanitarian crisis exists in the country and suggests that aid efforts are part of a US plot to orchestrate a coup.

Guaido told CNN he believes there's a chance he could be arrested upon his return.

"The exercise of politics in Venezuela is criminalized, not only towards me," he said. "Today there are 1,000 political prisoners in Venezuela, there are political assassinations."

But an attack on him, Guaido said, could backfire for the current administration.

"Venezuela is mobilized towards change and arresting someone (does) not calm the protest. On the contrary, it speeds it up and makes it grow."

A weekend of violent clashes

Nearly 300 people were injured and 37 hospitalized, as military members fired tear gas and sprayed rubber bullets into a crowd of protesters at Venezuela's border with Colombia over the weekend.

National Assembly Representative and Guaido supporter Adriana Pichardo told CNN that at least five people were also killed in clashes with Venezuelan security forces.

CNN could not independently confirm the number of fatalities, but Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said there were four deaths and 300 injuries Friday and Saturday.

Pence on Monday said the US will impose additional sanctions on Venezuelan leaders and pledged more aid to the region as he called on nations to do more to confront Maduro's government.

Following the Lima Group meeting Monday, Duque said the way to deal with the Venezuela crisis is through diplomacy -- not war. In a tweet Tuesday, he said the meeting, showed "an emphasis on diplomacy and no warmongering speech is being made."

"Under no circumstances (has) the term military force been used," he said. "This dispels voices which point out that what is sought are winds of war."

US Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams said Tuesday, following the UN Security Council meeting, that he believes there will soon be a UN resolution regarding Venezuela.

"I think we will have a resolution this week, which will certainly call for the admission of humanitarian aid into Venezuela and will comment on the events of the last few days," he said.

He also said US sanctions against officials of the Maduro regime will continue.

"We announced some sanctions yesterday. There will be more," Abrams said. "There will be more this week, there will be more next week. We will continue to impose sanctions on high-ranking members of the regime and people who handle their financial affairs."

During a meeting with Venezuelan migrant families in Bogota, Pence said the US will continue to provide assistance to the families and will stand with Guaido.

"We are with you, and we will stay with you until your libertad is restored," he said, according to remarks provided by the White House. "Have faith that, under President Donald Trump's leadership, the United States of America and freedom-loving nations around the world will stand with you."

Venezuelan, Russian UN ambassadors denounce US

Maduro's regime has already denounced the US for its delivery of aid and support of Guaido. Last week, Maduro announced he was cutting all ties with Colombia and ordered all ambassadors to leave the country, and threatened the US.

Jorge Arreaza, Minister of the People's Power for Foreign Affairs in Venezuela called the violence on the border a failed "coup" and denounced the US government for "organizing, financing, and leading this clear aggression against Venezuela."

He said the US intervention is an overreach and said solutions to the problems the country is facing should come from within. He also accused Trump of hypocrisy, asking how the US would respond if other countries tried to force aid through the southern US border.

"Mr. Trump declared a humanitarian crisis in the south of the United States because he wants to build a racist wall," Arreaza said. "So what would happen if Cuba, Venezuela, or Nicaragua were to come up with a convoy to try to force through the southern border to get to the population of the south of the United States for this humanitarian emergency, saying that was a humanitarian assistance effort?"

"What would happen if they were to try to do that? Ask yourself that question. There is a lot of hypocrisy afoot here," Arreaza said.

Russian Permanent Representative to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia said the attempted aid delivery over the weekend was like an "illegal state border crossing" that amounted to a "forced feeding."

"What took place on Saturday was reminiscent not of assistance, but what is called forced feeding in the United States," he said. "For the uninitiate, this is a form of torture, apparently having trained on their detainees on Guantanamo, the US authorities now decided to force feed a whole country."

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