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Venezuela: Maduro, Guaido vie for control

January 28, 2019

President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido are competing for control of the military. Washington has warned that any violence or intimidation of American diplomats or Guaido would trigger a US response.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Valencia, Venezuela
Image: Reuters/Miraflores Palace

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Sunday oversaw a display of the military's Russian weapons in what he said was a show of the army's loyalty and willingness to defend the country.

Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido, who last week declared himself interim president citing a fraudulent election, are both vying for control of Venezuela's military amid a growing crisis in the country.

Read more: Venezuela: Who will the military support?

Guaido, the 35-year-old leader of Venezuela's opposition-controlled congress, has won wide international support and has offered amnesty to soldiers who join him. On Sunday, he handed out leaflets to soldiers detailing a proposed amnesty law that would protect them for helping overthrow Maduro.

Maduro has accused Guaido of taking part in a coup ordered by Trump's hard-line policy advisers, who include Cold War veterans John Bolton and Elliott Abrams.

National security adviser John Bolton tweeted that "any violence and intimidation against US diplomatic personnel, Venezuela's democratic leader, Juan Guaido, or the National Assembly itself would represent a grave assault on the rule of law and will be met with a significant response."

During an appearance on state TV on Sunday, Maduro addressed soldiers and asked if they were plotting with the "imperialist" United States. "No, my commander in chief," they shouted in unison.

Maduro responded: "We're ready to defend our homeland — under any circumstance."

The armed forces have so far remained loyal to Maduro, firing tear gas and bullets on protesters and killing more than two dozen since Wednesday.

"Nobody should even think of stepping on this sacred soil. Venezuela wants peace ... and to guarantee peace, we have to be prepared," said Maduro.

Read more: Venezuelan military official breaks with Nicolas Maduro, backs opposition

Renewed protests

Guaido has called for fresh protests in an effort to turn the military against Maduro and back a European ultimatum demanding new elections.

In a video posted to Twitter, Guaido said the first of the nationwide strikes, on Wednesday, would be one "to demand that the armed forces side with the people," and the second, to be held on Saturday, will be a "big national and international rally to back the support of the European Union and the ultimatum." 

Spain, Britain, France, the Netherlands and Germany have said they plan to recognize Guaido as interim president unless Maduro calls elections within eight days. Speaking with CNN Turk, Maduro said the European countries "should withdraw this ultimatum."

"Venezuela is not tied to Europe. This is complete insolence," Maduro said, describing the European countries' actions as a "mistake."

Israel, Australia back Guaido

On Sunday, Israel and Australia also said they would be recognizing Guaido as Venezuela's interim president, joining the United States, Canada and a host of Latin American and European countries.

Read more: Venezuela and the US: From friends to foes

"Australia recognizes and supports the president of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido, in assuming the position of interim president ... until elections are held," said Foreign Minister Marise Payne, while calling for a "transition to democracy in Venezuela as soon as possible."

The Trump administration said Sunday it had accepted Venezuelan opposition figure Carlos Alfredo Vecchio as the country's diplomatic representative in the US.

The Venezuelan crisis came up for discussion at the UN Security Council on Saturday, which took no formal action due to divisions among members. Russia and China have backed Maduro, against council members France, Britain and nonpermanent member Germany, who want to increase pressure on Maduro and force him to resign. 

"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 after the meeting. "It's almost childlike."

law/cmk (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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