Apr 30, 2019

The Americas | Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó appears to stage military-backed challenge to President Maduro

By Mariana Zuñiga 

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido speaks with a military member near the Generalisimo Francisco de Miranda Airbase, "La Carlota," in Caracas, Venezuela, April 30, 2019. (REUTERS/Manaure Quintero )

Anthony Faiola
Correspondent covering Latin America, Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, human rights, poverty, globalization and economics
CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó appeared early Tuesday to be staging a military-backed challenge to President Nicolás Maduro, issuing a video with troops that he said was recorded at a base in Caracas and urging other soldiers to join the final stage of “Operation Liberty” meant to force the socialist leader from power.
“People of Venezuela, the end of usurpation has arrived,” Guaidó said. “At this moment, I am with the main military units of our armed forces, starting the final phase of Operation Liberty. People of Venezuela, we will go to the street with the armed forces to continue taking the streets until we consolidate the end of usurpation, which is already irreversible.”
Maduro’s communication’s minister tweeted that the government was moving to confront a “coup” and was attempting to “deactivate” what he described as a “reduced group of military officials who are traitors” and who have positioned themselves in the Altamira district of the capital.
Maduro’s defense minister, Vladimir Padrino Lopez, insisted in a separate tweet that the majority of the military remains loyal to the government.
“The Bolivarian Armed Forces stand firm in defense of the national constitution and its legitimate authorities,” he tweeted. He added: “We reject this coup-like movement that seeks to fill the country with violence. The pseudo political leaders that are heading the subversive movement have employed troops and police with war weapons in a street of the city to create terror.”
Guaidó called for “nonviolent” action, but the video had the hallmarks of perhaps the most significant military challenge to Maduro’s power since Guaidó — the head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly — invoked constitutional powers, called Maduro a usurper and claimed the true mantle of leadership as Venezuela’s interim president. His claim has since been recognized by nearly 60 nations, including the United States, which is vigorously backing him and has called on Venezuela’s military to reject Maduro.
On Tuesday — a day before a planned opposition protest — Guaidó stood in front of Leopoldo López, his political mentor and a longtime opposition figure who has been ordered to remain under house arrest. His presence signified a defiant breaking of that order.
“Venezuela: the final phase for the end of usurpation has arrived, Operation Freedom,” Lopez tweeted. “I have been freed by military men of the constitution, and of President Guaidó. I’m at the La Carlota Base. We have to mobilize. It’s time to conquer freedom. Strength and Faith.”
Officially known as Generalísimo Francisco de Miranda Air Base, the La Carlota base was built in 1946 in the eastern part of Caracas. Its airport has been closed to the public since 2005.
The early-morning events set the stage for a potentially dramatic confrontation between Maduro’s government and Guaidó’s backers.
“The assassin ultra-right joined this attempt, announcing its violent agenda months ago,” Jorge Rodriguez, Maduro’s communication minister, tweeted. “We call the people to stay in maximum alert with the glorious Bolivarian armed forces to overcome this coup attempt and preserve the peace.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who has strongly backed Guaidó, issued a call for the military to rise up: “This is the moment for those military officers in #Venezuela to fulfill their constitutional oath & defend the legitimate interim President @jguaido, in this effort to restore democracy,” he tweeted. “You can write history in the hours & days ahead.”
Faiola reported from Miami.
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