Guaido urges de­fec­tions as Maduro calls for vote

Demon­stra­tions from both sides in Venezuela cri­sis

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION & WORLD - By Manuel Rueda and Fabi­ola Sanchez

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.

MARCO BELLO/GETTY

Venezue­lan op­po­si­tion leader Juan Guaido waves to his sup­port­ers Satur­day.

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