Guaido urges defections as Maduro calls for vote
Demonstrations from both sides in Venezuela crisis
CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s opposition leader called on more members of the military to abandon the country’s socialist government following Saturday’s defection of a top general, as President Nicolas Maduro proposed holding early National Assembly elections that could potentially oust his challenger.
Maduro’s call for early legislative voting is likely to intensify Venezuela’s political standoff since challenger Juan Guaido, the United States and other nations have called for a new presidential election and the opposition-controlled National Assembly is led by Guaido, who has declared himself interim president. Government supporters control the powerful Constituent Assembly.
Speaking from behind a lectern decorated with Venezuela’s presidential seal, Guaido told cheering supporters he would keep his opposition movement in the streets until Maduro stopped “usurping” the country’s presidency and agreed to organize a new presidential election overseen by international observers.
Tens of thousands of Venezuelans joined opposition protests called by Guaido in Caracas and other cities.
Guaido called on “blocks” of the military to defect from Maduro’s administration and “get on the side of the Venezuelan people.”
“We don’t just want you to stop shooting at protesters,” Guaido said in a hoarse voice. “We want you to be part of the reconstruction of Venezuela.”
He said that in the coming days, the opposition would try to move humanitarian aid into the country by land and sea along three border points, including the Colombian city of Cucuta. He described the move as a “test” for Venezuela’s armed forces, which will have to choose if they allow the much needed aid to pass, or if they instead obey the orders of Maduro’s government. Maduro also dug in his heels, insisting he was the only president of Venezuela and describing Saturday’s anti-government protests as part of a U.S.-led coup attempt.
“I agree that the legislative power of the country be re-legitimized and that we hold free elections with guarantees, and the people choose a new National Assembly,” Maduro said at a pro-government demonstration in Caracas.
The socialist leader also had words for the administration of President Donald Trump that recently imposed sanctions on Venezuelan oil exports in an effort to undermine Maduro’s main source of income and weaken his grip on power.
“Do you think you are the emperor of the world?” he asked Trump. “Do you think Venezuela is going to give up and obey your orders? We will not surrender.”
The standoff comes amid what appears to be growing dissension among the ranks of Venezuela’s powerful military. Earlier Saturday, an air force general defected from Maduro’s administration.
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido waves to his supporters Saturday.