Venezuelan Opposition Leader Begins Coup, Clashes Turn Violent
Juan Guaido urged the military to join the “final phase” in Caracas on Tuesday morning and declared “the moment is now.”
US-supported opposition leader Juan Guiadó initiated a full-fledged uprising against President Nicolás Maduro on Tuesday, a surprise escalation in Venezuela’s political standoff that could drive the country into violent civil conflict. Protests are occurring in all of the nation’s 24 states, and at least 71 people have been injured in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas.
“The moment is now,” Guaidó said in a video showing him accompanied with soldiers and activist Leopoldo Lopez, who has been detained since 2014. The opposition leader urged the military to join the “final phase” in Caracas on Tuesday morning, saying, “today it is clear to us that the Armed Forces are with the people and not with the dictator.”
Guiadó’s success depends upon military support, but it is currently unclear how much of the Venezuelan military has defected to his cause. As of Tuesday afternoon, it appears Maduro has retained the loyalty of most of his military’s higher ups. Brian Winter, the editor-in-chief of America’s Quarterly, explained, “Almost all people I trust on Venezuela sound pessimistic. Guiadó and Leopoldo don’t appear to have begun the day with enough high-level military support.”
Winter later tweeted insight from Venezuelan journalist Luz Mely Reyes:
“One of Venezuela’s best journalists reporting that today’s action was planned for another day, and had strong military support- but they had to bring it forward because Guiado’s arrest was imminent, and then the military backed out.”
President Maduro tweeted Tuesday morning that military leaders had shown “total loyalty,” but he has yet to be seen since Guiadó’s announcement. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking to CNN‘s Wolf Blitzer, claimed Maduro was trying to flee Caracas before being stopped by Russia.
“We’ve watched throughout the day, it’s been a long time since anyone’s seen Maduro. He had an airplane on the tarmac, he was ready to leave this morning as we understand it and the Russians indicated he should stay.”
Pompeo added he would see it as a “major escalation” if Guiadó was detained, and claimed President Maduro was “headed for Havana.” On Tuesday, President Trump threatened a “full and complete embargo, together with highest level-sanctions” on Cuba unless the country immediately cease its operations in Venezuela.
Other US officials signaled their support for Guiadó throughout the day, with President Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton declaring, “all options are on the table.”
What is Happening in Venezuela?
As the National Assembly leader, Juan Guaidó declared himself interim president in January, arguing President Maduro’s 2018 illegitimate election granted him authority under the Venezuelan constitution. Since then, the United States and over fifty other countries have recognized Guiadó as the country’s rightful leader. The country’s severe economic crisis has led to mass immigration to neighboring countries like Colombia and Brazil, and increased US sanctions on Venezuelan oil have exacerbated the nation’s financial woes.
Supporter view Guiadó as a liberator of a corrupt dictatorship, while critics see him as illegitimately subverting a democratic regime and question his ties to Washington.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro called a meeting of top ministers Tuesday to discuss the situation. According to AP News, Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourão said the uprising marked the point of no return, as “there is no other way out of this” other than Maduro’s ouster or opposition leaders Guiadó and López ending up in prison.
According to Folha de Sao Paolo, 25 Venezuelan military members have been granted asylum in the Brazilian embassy in Caracas. Formerly detained Venezuelan activist Leopoldo Lopez also sought refuge in the Chilean embassy in Caracas with his family late Tuesday.
Venezuela’s UN ambassador Samuel Moncada claimed Maduro had “defeated” Guiadó late Tuesday afternoon, and criticized UN secretary general Antonio Guterres for calling for dialogue and “maximum restraint” on all sides instead of denouncing the uprising.