Guaidó and Maduro court military in Venezuelan power struggle

Maduro accuses United States of openly leading coup against him

January 28th, 2019: Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro rejected an international ultimatum to call elections within eight days, while opposition leader Juan Guaido called Maduro's May election a "fraud" and says elections should be free and fair. Video: Enda O'Dowd

 

The struggle for control of Venezuela has turned to the military, with supporters of opposition leader Juan Guaidó handing leaflets to soldiers detailing a proposed amnesty law that would protect them for helping overthrow president Nicolas Maduro.

At the same time, Mr Maduro demonstrated his might, wearing tan fatigues as he watched heavy artillery fired into a hillside and boarded an amphibious tank.

Addressing soldiers in an appearance on state TV, Mr Maduro asked whether they were plotting with the “imperialist” United States, which he accused of openly leading a coup against him.

“No, my commander-in-chief,” they shouted in unison, and Mr Maduro responded: “We’re ready to defend our homeland — under any circumstance.”

The duelling appeals from the two rivals again put the military centre stage in the global debate over who holds a legitimate claim to power in the South American nation.

The standoff has plunged troubled Venezuela into a new chapter of political turmoil that has already left more than two dozen dead as thousands took to the streets demanding Mr Maduro step down.

His rival Mr Guaidó is calling for two new mass protests over the next week.

The tumult erupted when Mr Guaidó, the 35-year-old leader of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled congress, declared before masses of supporters last week that he has temporarily assumed presidential powers, vowing to hold free elections and end Mr Maduro’s dictatorship.

Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro speaking to commander during military exercises at the Naval Base Agustin Armario. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro speaking to commander during military exercises at the Naval Base Agustin Armario. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Cutting ties

US president Donald Trump and several foreign leaders quickly recognised Mr Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, prompting Mr Maduro to cut ties with the US and order its diplomats from Caracas within 72 hours.

The US defied him, saying Mr Maduro is not the legitimate president, and Mr Maduro relented, suspending the deadline for 30 days for the sake of opening a dialogue.

Venezuela’s crisis came before the UN Security Council on Saturday, which took no formal action because of divisions among members.

Russia and China back Mr Maduro, but France and Britain joined Spain and Germany in turning up the pressure on him, saying they would recognise Mr Guaidó as president unless Venezuela calls a new presidential election within eight days.

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“Where do you get that you have the power to establish a deadline or an ultimatum to a sovereign people?” said Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza. “It’s almost childlike.”

Venezuela’s armed forces remain the key to Mr Maduro’s hold on power, firing tear gas and bullets on protesters, killing more than two dozen since Wednesday.

Mr Guaidó is urging Venezuelans to leave their homes, offices or wherever they may be on Wednesday for a peaceful, two-hour midday protest.

He is also asking followers to take to the streets again Saturday for demonstrations “in every corner” of the nation and around the globe, to coincide with the European Union deadline for announcing a new election.

“We’re advancing well, Venezuela,” Mr Guaidó said in his broadcast, streamed live on the internet. “We’ve restored hope.”

The Trump administration has maintained that all options remain open if Mr Maduro refuses to cede leadership, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said on Fox News Sunday.

“I don’t think any president of any party who is doing his or her job would be doing the job properly if they took anything off the table,” he said. “So, I think the president of the United States is looking at this extraordinarily closely.”– AP