Trump is in South Florida through Sunday evening, when he is hosting a Super Bowl party. His plans for the rest of the day Sunday were not clear.
Guaidó had hoped to meet Trump in person for the first time during a risky trip outside Venezuela, where he bucked a travel ban imposed by President Nicolás Maduro.
After a rumored meeting in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this month did not occur, Guaidó’s backers had expressed hope that Trump would travel from his Mar-a-Lago resort to attend a rally with Venezuelan expatriates in Miami.
Trump’s absence at the 2 p.m. rally will be read as a snub after political setbacks for Guaidó, in whom the Trump administration invested hopes for a peaceful overthrow of the hard-line socialist Maduro government.
Grisham did not expand on Trump’s decision. He spent much of Saturday at his Trump National Doral Golf Club near Mar-a-Lago and tweeted a photo of himself in golf togs. He returned to Mar-a-Lago before 3 p.m. and was expected to attend a dinner with supporters at the private club Saturday evening.
Less than an hour away in Miami, Guaidó mingled on decidedly friendly territory. Some of his most vocal backers include the state’s two Republican U.S. senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, as well as Venezuelan exiles based in and near the city.
More than 200,000 Venezuelans have settled in South Florida since 2014, according to a 2018 University of Miami study. Countless restaurants sell Venezuelan-style filled corn flour cakes and fried dough filled with melted cheese in Miami and its satellite cities, including Aventura and Doral.
For Guaidó, who had already had face time with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump’s daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump during his two-week global jaunt, a meeting with the president was considered an essential moment of his trip.
Trump has at times appeared less engaged on the Venezuelan political and economic crisis than hawkish members of his national security team. But his in-person endorsement would do much to bolster Guaidó’s image at home, where he has faced a population increasingly frustrated over the opposition’s inability to quickly follow through on its promise to force Maduro out.
“Everyone would [have questioned] Guaidó’s leadership,” said Dimitris Pantoulas, a Caracas-based political analyst. The majority of the opposition are placing their hopes “primarily on the support the United States can give” Guaidó, he said.
Guaidó two weeks ago defied a government-imposed travel ban, spiriting out of Venezuela into Colombia. Over the past two weeks he met with heads of state, including Colombian President Iván Duque, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron, in an effort to “consolidate the support of the world to achieve freedom for Venezuela,” he said when he arrived in Bogota on Jan. 19.
Last week, Guaidó meet Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. But at a time when his opposition is facing more aggressive attacks from the Maduro government as well as internal betrayals and corruption charges, a meeting with Trump remained the image boost he needed.
Guaidó’s tour has thus far not yielded significant and concrete promises of more sanctions from European governments. But in an interview Friday with The Washington Post, he described the trip as a success nonetheless, in part because he was able to offer firsthand accounts to Europeans about the hardships and repression in Venezuela.
He also pitched the continent, albeit without a final resolution, on shutting down the shipment of illegally mined gold from Venezuela’s south to Europe, an operation the Maduro government has allegedly been pursuing to sustain itself.
“It was worth the risk in my case for several reasons,” Guaidó said. “The first one is to make visible the magnitude of the crisis. It is no small matter: There are 5 million refugees and 7 million Venezuelans at home facing a humanitarian emergency.
“The second, as you know, is what the dictatorship has been doing with the trafficking of Venezuelan gold,” he added. “That it is blood gold because it finances irregular groups, because it displaces indigenous communities.”
Maduro says he’s still in control of Venezuela and is ready for direct talks with the United States.
In January, in an interview with The Washington Post, Maduro called for direct talks with the United States — a call Guaidó seemed to dismiss as a ploy.
“My perception of what the dictator answered during your interview was damage control,” he said. “Again, wanting to be seen as someone willing to negotiate. . . . For us, [the path ahead] is very clear: a free election and guarantees for all sectors.”
The trip is Guaidó’s first since he left Venezuela for Colombia last February to help lead a largely failed effort to push massive amounts of humanitarian aid from the United States and elsewhere into Venezuela.
He was allowed to return then without facing arrest, despite the travel ban against him.
This week, a senior member of the Maduro government — Diosdado Cabello — suggested that nothing would happen to Guaidó upon his return this time either.
Is going back a risk?
“As you know, the risk [in Venezuela] exists every day,” Guaidó said.
On the surface, there were no concrete promises made by European leaders regarding sanctions, which the European Union has been wary of imposing since Guaidó swore in last year. But Guaidó’s trip has nevertheless played well in Venezuela, where he has seen a spike in popularity as a desperate population has viewed him as increasingly presidential on his global tour — as well as taking new and active steps to isolate Maduro.
“With this tour, Guaidó put the Venezuelan theme back on the international agenda,” Pantoulas said. “This tour put the name Guaidó in the mouths of Venezuelans again. There is, without a doubt, a resurgence of his popularity inside and outside the country.”
On his tour, Guaidó received surface-level diplomatic support for his cause and recognition as interim president, but whether he obtained any significant promises that will in practice get him closer to ousting Maduro remains to be seen. Observers speculated that he might have had conversations with European leaders about increasing individual sanctions.
Yet his tour was more symbolic than anything else, and his strength to fight against Maduro will continue to erode without a game-changer in the weeks and months ahead, observers said. In Davos, he pointed to how most options have been exhausted.
“In 2017 the dictatorship fooled the international community in the Dominican Republic dialogue and then we tried again in 2019 and they again fooled us in Norway,” he said. “We have never closed the door to solutions, but we won’t be part of a farce.”
Maduro on the other hand, has been portraying himself as stable and victorious. His strategy this year, analysts said, is to continue to buy time, divide the opposition and convince the world that the U.S.-backed Guaidó strategy failed. With that, he believes he can get foreign powers, especially the United States, to negotiate without demanding free elections or his exit as a prerequisite. Pressure has eased on him at home as the nation’s broken economy, particularly in the capital of Caracas, appears to be edging toward a possible recovery.
In his interview with The Post, Maduro suggested that the time for such negotiations had already arrived.
“Today, there’s no single reason for Maduro to agree to presidential elections or to resign,” said Luis Vicente Leon, a political analyst and director of the Caracas-based Datanálisis polling agency. Leon said “Guaidó will need to change that before the time comes when Maduro achieves his goal and convinces the international community that the fight is over.”
Mariana Zuñiga in Caracas contributed.