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Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido is seen during a National Assembly session at Bolivar Square, in Venezuela, on Feb. 12, 2020.

Carolina Cabral/Getty Images

President Nicolas Maduro said Friday that Venezuelan authorities haven’t detained opposition leader Juan Guaido because the courts haven’t ordered it, but he warned: “It will come.”

Maduro made the remark in a meeting with the international press three days after Guaido 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 Guaido enter when he arrived on a commercial flight at Venezuela’s main international airport.

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Maduro said that the day Venezuela’s justice system decides Guaido should be imprisoned “for 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.

“That 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 Guaido 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 Guaido’s recent trip abroad, many inside Venezuela have grown wary of the opposition as Maduro remains in the presidency and consolidates his power.

Guaido did not respond to Maduro’s threat Friday.

Dressed in a blue suit and seated before a giant portrait of South American independence hero Simon Bolivar, Maduro delivered an angry diatribe against U.S. sanctions that he likened to a “sick 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.

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.

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“Having to choose whether to repress or permit, I chose to permit it,” he said of the growing dollarization. “It 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 “friendly 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.

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