The president-elect of Guatemala said he was blocked Saturday from entering Venezuela where he planned to meet opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who is seeking to oust socialist President Nicolás Maduro.
Officials defended their actions, saying Guatemala’s incoming leader, Alejandro Giammattei, was turned away because he broke with normal protocol followed by heads of state.
The commercial flight carrying Giammattei, who takes office in Guatemala on Jan. 14, made an early morning landing at the airport near Caracas, but his visit ended there.
“They didn’t allow our entry into Venezuela,” Giammattei said in a video posted on Twitter. “They escorted us to the gate and put us on the returning plane.”
Giammattei expresses his support for Guaido in the video shot from the plane about to depart.
Guaidó, who traveled to the airport to greet the foreign leader, launched a campaign early this year with backing from more than 50 nations to unseat Maduro. Critics accuse Maduro of claiming a second term following a fraudulent election in 2018, while overseeing the once-wealthy oil-nation’s economic and social collapse.
Giammattei said in another video that in Caracas he planned to invite Guaidó to his inauguration in Guatemala and press for Venezuela’s return to democracy, including the release of political prisoners and the immediate call to elections.
Guaidó later spoke at a private university where he was to meet with Giammattei, saying Maduro’s government used “unprecedented, unnecessary diplomatic aggression” by refusing the Guatemalan leader.
Maduro’s government said Giammatei is well-known as the incoming president of Guatemala, but rather than entering as such, Giammattei presented an Italian passport and said he came as a tourist making a private visit.
“A visit to Venezuela by high-level foreign officials requires not only bilateral coordination that include setting an agenda, arranging security and issuing visas, but also the presentation of credentials and identification of the country that fulfilled of government,” the Venezuelan government said in a statement.
Maduro maintains control of Venezuela with the backing of the military and international support from key allies Cuba, Russia and China.
The United States supports Guaidó and has imposed sanctions on Venezuela as it tries to force Maduro from power.
Associated Press writer Sonia Pérez contributed to this story from Guatemala.