Venezuela’s self-declared interim leader calls on army to defect

‘Extend the hand of friendship’: Protesters in Venezuela should be nice to the Army to encourage soldiers to defect, opposition leader Juan Guaido says after a third day of violent demonstrations

  • Juan Guaido declared himself interim President on Wednesday during a rally
  • President Nicolas Maduro refuses to give up power and called it a U.S ‘coup’ 
  • Army generals pledged loyalty to Maduro but Guaido has asked for their support 
  • Guaido has support of U.S, which tabled a U.N security council meeting today 

Venezuela’s self-declared interim leader Juan Guaido has called on the military to desert President Nicolas Maduro and urged his supporters to ‘extend a hand of friendship’ to defecting soldiers.

Addressing a crowd of thousands on Friday, Guaido hinted at the inevitability of a changeover of power, calling for further ‘mass demonstrations’ until a transitional government is formed.

‘They can cut a flower, but they will never keep spring from coming,’ he said, alluding to a similar phrase from the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.

Armed forces run after a demonstrator during a protest of opposition supporters against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas. The military have so far pledged loyalty to Maduro, but opposition leader Juan Guaido has appealed to them to defect

Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez, along with members of the top military leadership, pledged his service ‘in support of the constitutional president’ Nicolas Maduro

Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro rallied his military leaders (pictured) Thursday as the US and key allies backed a challenge from his leading rival who declared himself ‘acting president.’

Opposition demonstrators clash with security forces during a protest against the government of President Nicolas Maduro

Guaido (left), who two days ago announced that he assumed executive powers as interim president, asked for further demonstrations until a government could be formed and Maduro (right) had stood down  

‘They think this movement will deflate, that we will grow tired. But nobody here will tire, nobody will give in. Venezuela has awoken and it will never fall asleep again,’ Guaido declared.

But it may fall on deaf ears as Venezuela’s powerful military high command threw its weight behind Maduro on Thursday.

In a televised speech, defence minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez, a general, accused Guaido of attempting a ‘coup d’etat’ and said Maduro, 56, is ‘the legitimate president.’

Eight further generals who command of strategic regions of the country reiterated their ‘absolute loyalty and subordination’ to the socialist leader in messages carried on state television.   

Venezuelan Bolivarian Militia members chant pro-government slogans during a rally in La Guaira, Venezuela, Friday, January 25, 2019

Violence in the streets: Demonstrators hurl objects at riot police as tear gas fills the streets of Caracas amid nationwide protests which have left the country in crisis 

Venezuela’s powerful military high command threw its weight behind Maduro on Thursday

Paramedics rescue a wounded member of the National Guard during clashes with opposition demonstrators. The army have remained loyal to the government of President Nicolas Maduro

Venezuela’s self-declared interim leader has called on the army to defect from President Nicolas Maduro and support him instead 

Padrino also offered a warning to the US not to intervene in what he called an assault ‘against our democracy’. 

Representatives from both the dueling Presidents will face-off today at a United Nations Security Council Meeting. The council will meet in open session in New York at 9am (1400 GMT), Saturday.

The U.S, which orchestrated the meeting, has offered Guaido its full support, but its motion to focus the discussion on Venezuela has been strongly opposed by Russia.  

Russia wants the discussion generalized to threats to international peace and security, amid reports that it has sent military contractors to Venezuela to bolster Maduro’s security.    

A Bolivarian National Guard soldier shouts at anti-government protesters to leave the streets during clashes after an anti-government rally demanding the resignation of President Nicolas Maduro

Opposition supporters carry letters to form the word ‘Democracy’ at the huge rally in Caracas where Juan Guaido, President of Venezuela’s National Assembly, declared himself interim leader 

Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido holds a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela, at which he said: ‘They can cut a flower, but they will never keep spring from coming’

A protester is left with blood on his face after the clashes in Caracas which saw tens of thousands of Venezuelans gather to protest against Nicolas Maduro’s rule 

Protesters in Venezuela should ‘Extend the hand of friendship’ to the Army to encourage soldiers to deflect, according to opposition leader Juan Guaido

Well-informed council diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions have been private, said there is expected to be a procedural vote called for by Russia. 

But they said the U.S. is expected to win the vote and go ahead with the meeting focused on Venezuela.  

Ahead of the public meeting, the United States circulated a draft Security Council statement.

The draft, seen by Reuters, said: ‘As conditions in the Republic of Venezuela continue to deteriorate, the Security Council expresses its full support for the National Assembly as Venezuela’s only democratically elected institution.’

If the council backed the statement, it would effectively recognize Guaido as Venezuela’s head of state. 

However, Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said on Friday that Moscow would oppose the move. Council statements must be agreed by consensus.

Riot police wear helmets and hold up shields as a fire burns in the street in the Venezuelan state of Tachira 

Before Washington circulated the draft statement to council members late on Friday, Nebenzia told Reuters: ‘That will not pass … For us nothing changes.’

The draft statement also ‘calls for the immediate start of a political process that leads to free, fair and credible elections with international electoral observation in the shortest possible time.’  

Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza is on the speakers list, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is also expected to address the 15-strong meeting. 

Pompeo has appointed Elliot Abrams, a hawkish former Republican official, to handle American policy toward Venezuela.

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Neo-conservative Abrams, who is a proponent of an interventionist foreign policym previously served under Ronald Reagan as US Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs.  

Meanwhile Maduro is refusing to concede power and has accused opponents of orchestrating a coup.

‘This is nothing more than a coup d’etat, ordered, promoted, financed and supported by the government of the United States,’ he said Friday.

Some American diplomats evacuated the country yesterday, after Maduro broke diplomatic ties with Washington and ordered them to leave. 

The Trump administration is now attempting to cut off Maduro’s funding streams, according to to National Security Adviser John Bolton. 

Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido attends a news conference that became a rally in Caracas, Venezuela January 25, 2019

‘[The government of the United States] intend to put a puppet government in Venezuela, destroy the state and take colonial control of the country,’ Maduro said. 

But he added that he was still willing to talk with the country’s opposition even if he ‘had to go naked.’ 

This proposition was rejected by Guaido, who said he was not interested in ‘fake dialogue’ and would instead consider offering the man he calls ‘El Usurpador’ (The Usurper) amnesty and a safe passage out of the country. 

Both sides attempted dialogue last year, but it fell apart as Maduro pushed forward with an early election that the country’s most popular opposition leaders were barred from running in. 

Many in the international community condemned that vote and now consider the National Assembly – which is led by Guaido and which Maduro has stripped of its power – the only legitimate institution. 

As tensions continue to bubble, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said it was granting precautionary measures to protect Guaido and his family. 

The organisation said his life, personal integrity and personal freedom are at ‘urgent and grave risk.’ 

The situation in the south American country reached boiling point this week when National Assembly leader Guaido declared himself the country’s leader at a protest in the capital Caracas on Wednesday. 

Riot police on a motorcycle drive by a fire during a mass protest in Venezuela’s capital city on Wednesday

A wounded protester shows the injuries on his back as demonstrators clash with riot police in Caracas

His leadership was swiftly recognized by the United States and about a dozen regional governments, including those of Brazil, Argentina and Colombia.  

But anger had long since been building as a deep depression marked by hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine triggered an exodus of Venezuelans to surrounding countries.  

Guaido’s move is the most direct challenge to Maduro’s rule despite years of protests at home and international efforts to isolate the regime amid a growing humanitarian crisis fueled by falling oil prices and government mismanagement. 

As well as the U.S, Guaido has the support of Canada, Britain and the EU.  

Closer to home, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Brazil and Chile have also recognised his legitimacy.   

Mexico, Cuba and Bolivia, all in the hands of leftist governments, pledged support for Maduro, as Russia, China and Iran.   

Russian President Vladimir Putin offered his support in a phone call. 

Putin ‘expressed support to the legitimate government of Venezuela amid the acute political crisis that has been provoked from the outside’, the Kremlin said. 

Both Guaido and Maduro remain determined to defend their claims to the presidency no matter what, with Guaido telling supporters that if he is arrested they should ‘stay the course’ and peacefully protest. 

Crisis: A map showing Venezuela where the political turmoil has erupted in recent days after Nicolas Maduro was sworn in for a second term earlier this month, following a disputed election victory last year 

But the standoff could set the scene for more violence and has plunged troubled Venezuela into a new chapter of political turmoil that rights groups say has already left more than two dozen dead.

U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet’s office said Friday it has credible reports that security forces or members of pro-government armed groups have shot at least 20 people during protests on Tuesday and Wednesday and is calling for an investigation. 

The total figure is likely higher: The Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict says 21 people were killed by gunfire in protests and looting on Wednesday and Thursday, on top of five deaths authorities confirmed Tuesday.

The Penal Forum human rights group says that 369 people have been detained since Monday.

‘The international community is watching more closely than ever before, so Venezuelan security forces – and those commanding them – should know they will be held to account for any abuses,’ Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director for Human Rights Watch, wrote on Twitter.    

Guaido has said he’d be willing to talk with any party willing to discuss restoring democracy, but short of that, he said there would be more protests.

‘There will be people on the street,’ Guaido clamored, ‘until we get freedom’.

Which countries are supporting Venezuela’s opposition? 

Venezuela’s National Assembly head Juan Guaido who has declared himself the interim President

Supporting ‘interim’ President Juan Guaido: 

  • United States
  • Canada
  • United Kingdom 
  • Argentina
  • Brazil
  • Chile
  • Colombia
  • Costa Rica
  • Guatemala
  • Honduras
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Peru 
  • Kosovo 
  • The EU 27 

Venezuelan head of state Nicolas Maduro

Supporting incumbent President Nicolas Maduro:

  • Russia
  • China
  • Iran
  • Cuba
  • Mexico 
  • Turkey  
  • Syria 
  • Bolivia 
  • Uruguay  

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