Guaidó urges military to defect from Maduro regime
Venezuela’s opposition leader called on more members of the military to abandon the country’s socialist government following Saturday’s defection of a high-ranking air force general.
President Nicolás Maduro proposed holding early National Assembly elections that could potentially oust his challenger. Maduro’s call for early legislative voting is likely to intensify a political standoff with rival Juan Guaidó, who heads the opposition-controlled National Assembly and is demanding a new presidential election. Guaidó declared himself Venezue-
la’s legitimate ruler on Jan. 23, and has the support of the Trump administration and most South American nations.
Speaking from behind a podium decorated with Venezuela’s presidential seal, Guaidó told supporters he would keep his opposition movement in the streets until Maduro stopped “usurping” the country’s presidency and agreed to a presidential election overseen by international observers. On Saturday, tens of thousands of Venezuelans joined opposition protests against Maduro in Caracas and other cities.
Guaidó 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,” Guaidó 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 Cúcuta. 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 opposition controls the National Assembly while government supporters control the powerful Constituent Assembly.
The socialist leader also had words for the administration of President Donald Trump which 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, a Venezuelan air force general defected from Maduro’s administration and called on his compatriots to participate in protests against the socialist leader’s rule.
Gen. Francisco Yánez is the first high ranking officer to leave Maduro’s government since Jan. 23, when Guaido declared himself the country’s legitimate leader by invoking two articles of the Venezuelan constitution that he argues give him the right to assume presidential powers. He considers Maduro’s election win fraudulent.
In a YouTube video, Yánez described Maduro as a dictator and referred to Guaidó as his president. He didn’t say if he was still in Venezuela or had left the country.
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, center, who has declared himself the interim president of Venezuela, arrives Saturday at a demonstration in Caracas.