US ig­nores Rus­sian warn­ing to back off in Venezuela

The Tribune (SLO) - - Nation & World - BY ANA VANESSA HERRERO AND NEIL MACFAR­QUHAR

CARACAS, VENEZUELA

The em­bat­tled gov­ern­ment of Venezuela struck back against its op­po­nents Thurs­day, win­ning strong sup­port from the coun­try’s armed forces and the solid back­ing of Rus­sia, which warned the United States not to in­ter­vene.

The events put Venezuela’s pres­i­dent, Ni­colás Maduro, at the cen­ter of a Cold War-style show­down be­tween Rus­sia, an ally that has shored up his gov­ern­ment with bil­lions of dol­lars, and the United States, which has de­nounced him as a cor­rupt au­to­crat with no le­giti- macy.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion pressed its case Thurs­day, with Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo call­ing on all coun­tries in the hemi­sphere to re­ject Maduro and “align them­selves with democ­racy,” set­ting up a test of wills with the Krem­lin.

Only a day be­fore, Maduro’s po­lit­i­cal neme­sis, op­po­si­tion leader Juan Guaidó, seemed to have the mo­men­tum. Dur­ing na­tion­wide protests against the gov­ern­ment, he pro­claimed him­self the coun­try’s right­ful pres­i­dent, earn­ing en­dorse­ments from Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and sev­eral gov­ern­ments in the re­gion.

But on Thurs­day, it was Maduro’s turn to put Guaidó on de­fense. In a tele­vised news con­fer­ence, the leader of Venezuela’s armed forces de­clared loy­alty to Maduro and said the op­po­si­tion’s ef­fort to re­place him amounted to an at­tempted coup.

In a fur­ther blow to the op­po­si­tion, Rus­sia warned the United States against med­dling in Venezuela. Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin of Rus­sia tele­phoned Maduro and “em­pha­sized that de­struc­tive ex­ter­nal in­ter­fer­ence is a gross vi­o­la­tion of the fun­da­men­tal norms of in­ter­na­tional law,” ac­cord­ing to a state­ment on the Krem­lin’s of­fi­cial web­site.

The United States ig­nored the ad­mo­ni­tions, try­ing to rally other coun­tries to re­ject what Pom­peo called “Maduro’s tyranny.”

“His regime is morally bank­rupt, it’s eco­nom­i­cally in­com­pe­tent, and it is pro­foundly cor­rupt. It is un­demo­cratic to the core,” Pom­peo told a meet­ing in Wash­ing­ton of the 35-mem­ber Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Amer­i­can States.

The United States also of­fered $20 mil­lion in emer­gency aid to Guaidó’s side and re­quested an emer­gency meet­ing of the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil on Satur­day on the Venezuela cri­sis.

Taken to­gether, the events es­ca­lated the con­fu­sion and con­flict over who is the right­ful presi- dent of Venezuela, the oil-rich and for­merly pros­per­ous coun­try up­ended by po­lit­i­cal re­pres­sion and se­vere eco­nomic hard­ship un­der Maduro.

Maduro was sworn in for his sec­ond term this month af­ter an elec­tion widely viewed as rigged. Guaidó ar­gues that, as the pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Assem­bly, an op­po­si­tion­con­trolled leg­isla­tive body, he has the con­sti­tu­tional author­ity to as­sume power be­cause Maduro had taken of­fice il­le­gally.

Af­ter Trump rec­og­nized Guaidó on Wed­nes­day, an in­fu­ri­ated Maduro cut ties with the United States and or­dered all its diplo­mats to leave within 72 hours. Pom­peo said the United States would not com­ply.

But a se­nior U.S. of­fi­cial, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity, said the em­bassy in Caracas, the cap­i­tal, was evac­u­at­ing all fam­ily mem­bers and sev­eral diplo­mats, keep­ing a core team of of­fi­cers in place. How long they might stay re­mained un­clear but the State De­part­ment said late Thurs­day it had “no plans to close the em­bassy.”

Maduro, ad­dress­ing Supreme Court judges Thurs­day af­ter­noon, urged the United States to heed his call to with­draw all the diplo­mats by this week­end.

“If there is any sense and ra­tio­nal­ity, I say to the State De­part­ment: You must fol­low the or­der,” Maduro said.

He added that Venezuela’s diplo­matic mis­sions in the United States, which in­clude an em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton and con­sulates in Florida and Texas, would be shut down by Satur­day.

Op­po­si­tion lead­ers had hoped that key mem­bers of the armed forces would break ranks with Maduro af­ter large demon­stra­tions across the coun­try and in­ter­na­tional pledges of sup­port for Guaidó.

AP

In this photo re­leased by the Venezue­lan De­fense Min­istry press of­fice, De­fense Min­is­ter Vladimir Padrino Lopez de­liv­ers a mes­sage of sup­port for Venezue­lan Pres­i­dent Ni­colás Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, on Thurs­day.

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