Venezuela's Guaido urges military defections amid protests

Hugh Fox
February 4, 2019

A Venezuelan air force general has defected from the administration of President Nicolas Maduro and called on his compatriots to participate in Saturday protests against the socialist leader's rule.

Last week, the Bank of England denied Maduro officials' request to withdraw $1.2 billion of gold stored there after top USA officials, including Bolton and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, lobbied their United Kingdom counterparts to cut off the regime from its overseas holdings.

Juan Guaido speaks to supporters in a public plaza in Las Mercedes neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Jan. 29, 2019.

The opposition's priority is to end Maduro's grip on power and usher in a transition by holding democratic elections, Guaido said in the letter to Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

An "international contact group" announced Thursday by the EU's top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, "should help to cease the usurpation of power by Maduro and establish a transitional government until new elections", said Francisco Sucre, who heads the global committee of the opposition-led National Assembly.

Maduro has been crisscrossing Venezuela overseeing military exercises and vowing to defend his socialist government no matter the cost.

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USA officials who have warned Maduro will face "serious consequences" if he harms Guaido denounced the incident as a disgraceful intimidation tactic.

In a visit to the largest community of Venezuelan exiles in the United States - and flanked by four prominent Florida Republican politicians - Pence categorically rejected calls for talks with Maduro, and warned all options were on the table to force him to leave.

"People are the center of this plan", said Guaido, adding that the most important sectors for the implementation are "farmers, armed forces and global community".

"Since learning of the arrest, the government, through our embassy in Caracas, is doing everything necessary to secure their swift release", the Spanish government said yesterday. "But in the next few days we will announce a global coalition to send aid to Venezuela".

Most Latin American countries have done so as well, while European governments are also throwing their support behind Guaido, albeit more cautiously.

The European Parliament has passed a resolution, calling EU member states to recognise self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido as head of the country.

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Guaido says up to 300,000 people are "at risk of death" in Venezuela for want of humanitarian aid.

While marshaling global support, Guaido is seeking to maintain street pressure against Maduro. The military's top leadership is backing Maduro, though analysts warn that rank-and-file troops frustrated by their country's economic and humanitarian crisis may not share their unwavering loyalty.

Speaking at a pro-regime demonstration marking 20 years since his predecessor Hugo Chavez came to power, Maduro reiterated his call to bring forward elections for the opposition-held national assembly.

"We expect them to be released immediately", she said in Bucharest where European Union foreign ministers are set to discuss the crisis later Thursday.

On January 21, a group of 27 soldiers rose up against Maduro in Caracas.

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