Venezuelans heeded opposition leader Juan Guaido’s call to take to the streets on Wednesday in a bid to force President Nicolas Maduro from power, but there was little concrete sign of change in a crisis that increasingly looks like a political stalemate.
Guaido had called for the “largest march” in Venezuela’s history and said on Twitter that “millions of Venezuelans” were in the streets in “this final phase” of his move to oust Maduro.
But by late afternoon, many of the protesters in the capital Caracas had drifted home. National Guards fired tear gas at a hardcore of demonstrators who remained, and one injured demonstrator was carried by others to a first aid truck, a video showed.
The standoff in Venezuela increased tensions between the United States and Russia, who accused each other of interference in the OPEC-member nation’s affairs.
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Despite Guaido’s calls for the military to support him, the armed forces leadership has so far remained loyal to Maduro, who has been in power since his mentor, the late President Hugo Chavez, died in 2013.
“If the regime thought we had reached maximum pressure, they cannot even imagine,” Guaido told thousands of cheering supporters. “We have to remain in the streets.”
It was unclear what more Guaido can do at this point. The Venezuelan opposition has often staged huge street protests against Maduro but failed to dislodge him despite a deep economic recession and hyperinflation.
Maduro and military
Maduro and key military figures made a show of unity in a television broadcast on Thursday, seeking to reject claims by the United States and the opposition that the armed forces high command was prepared to turn on him.
Flanked by Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino and military operations chief Remigio Ceballos, Maduro said in a dawn national address posted first to social media that the armed forces were “united, cohesive and subordinate to their constitutional mandate”, just two days after opposition leader Juan Guaido urged the military to join him to oust Maduro.
Venezuelans heeded a call from Guaido to take to the streets on Wednesday in a bid to force Maduro from power, but there was little concrete sign of change in a crisis that increasingly looks like a political stalemate.
Guaido, the head of the opposition-run National Assembly, is recognised as Venezuela’s legitimate head of state by the United States, the European Union and others, while Maduro is backed by countries including Russia, China and Cuba.
US officials have said the military high command was in discussions with the Supreme Court and representatives of Guaido over Maduro’s exit, which would involve guarantees that members of the armed forces could keep their jobs in a transition government.
Elliott Abrams, the US special envoy for Venezuela, said Maduro cannot trust his top military leaders. “Even when they say, ‘I am totally loyal, Mr President,’ he cannot count on that,” Abrams told broadcaster VPI on Wednesday. “Almost everyone was involved with that, and so Maduro has to know that the high command is not truly loyal and they want a change.”
Abrams’ comments were not the first time US officials had raised doubts about the loyalty of Maduro’s inner circle. US National Security Adviser John Bolton on Tuesday said Padrino, along with the supreme court’s chief justice and the commander of the presidential guard, had told the opposition Maduro needed to leave power.
“Do not come to buy us with a dishonest offer, as if we do not have dignity,” Padrino said on Thursday’s video while standing by Maduro’s side. “Those who have fallen and sold their souls are no longer soldiers, they cannot be with us.”