Venezuela: What We Know About Juan Guaidó’s ‘Final Phase’
A day after Venezuela’s opposition declared a rebellion against President Nicolás Maduro, nervous uncertainty gripped the nation on Wednesday, with both sides calling for legions of supporters to take to the streets.
Antigovernment demonstrators, accompanied by members of the security forces, heeded calls by the opposition leader Juan Guaidó to rise up against Mr. Maduro, in what he called the “final phase” in the ousting of the socialist leader. Each man appealed to his supporters to make a major, public show of strength on Wednesday, raising the risk of violent confrontation.
Venezuela has been on the brink for months. In January, the National Assembly refused to recognize Mr. Maduro’s re-election in a contest his critics said was rigged, and Mr. Guaidó declared himself interim president, a direct challenge to Mr. Maduro’s leadership.
On Tuesday, thousands rallied on the streets of the capital, where clashes broke out between opposition supporters and forces loyal to the president. But at the end of the day, Mr. Maduro was still in power, and he made an address to the nation Tuesday night from the presidential palace maintaining that he was still in control.
Here’s what we know as the country braces for a second day of protest.
Maduro vs. Guaidó: The leaders’ contradictory messages.
A defiant Mr. Maduro appeared on national television Tuesday evening, flanked by top military officials and civilians at the Miraflores Palace. He denied claims from officials in Washington that he had been prepared to flee to Cuba until Russian authorities talked him into staying in Venezuela.
Russia’s foreign ministry called the American assertion of Russian involvement part of an information war.
Mr. Maduro called Tuesday’s actions an attempted coup and promised to hold opposition leaders responsible, but maintained that he was still in charge, saying, “the skirmish in Venezuela has been defeated.”
Mr. Guaidó contradicted that message in his own address Tuesday night. “This is not a coup in Venezuela,” he said; he described himself as the “legitimate commander of the armed forces,” in the process of bringing about a “peaceful transition.”
Mr. Maduro’s claim of control over the military was “a farce,” he said, and troops should “keep advancing” against Mr. Maduro and his supporters. He also urged “all of Venezuela to the streets” on Wednesday, setting the stage for another day of unrest.
The day began with hope for the opposition and ended with violence.
Before dawn on Tuesday, Mr. Guaidó posted a video statement calling for citizens to rise up against Mr. Maduro’s government as part of a “final phase” in the campaign against the socialist leader. Standing alongside national guardsmen as the sun rose over the La Carlota air base in Caracas, Mr. Guaidó said his “nonviolent struggle” was within the parameters of the country’s Constitution.
“We count on the people of Venezuela — today the armed forces are clearly on the people’s side, on the side of the Constitution, they are loyal to the Constitution, loyal to the people of Venezuela, to their families, to the future and to progress,” he said. “It has been years of sacrifice, persecution and even years of fear.”
Leopoldo López, a prominent opposition politician who has been under house arrest, stood alongside him after being released by soldiers who support the opposition. Mr. López led widespread street protests against Mr. Maduro in 2014 and was sentenced to nearly 14 years of detention.
But just hours after Mr. Guaidó spoke, the rebellion had taken on a different tone. The demonstrations in Caracas turned violent, as military and security officials loyal to Mr. Maduro clashed in the streets with opposition supporters.
The police and troops used gunfire, tear gas and water cannons to try to disperse protesters, who responded with gasoline bombs and rocks, and at one point an armored vehicle drove into a group of demonstrators. Dozens of people were reported injured.
It was unclear by the day’s end how much of the military remained loyal to Mr. Maduro and who was aligned with the opposition. The government at first conceded that Mr. Guaidó’s forces had taken control of the air base, then denied it.
Though some officers appeared to be supporting Mr. Guaidó, widespread public support from top military leaders failed to materialize.
In another blow to the opposition, just hours after Mr. López’s much-anticipated release, he and his wife and daughter sought shelter in the Chilean Embassy in Caracas. They later relocated to Spain’s embassy, according to Roberto Ampuero, Chile’s foreign minister, and remained there on Wednesday.
The country is bracing for more demonstrations.
By Wednesday morning, it was unclear what the day might hold, and whether supporters of the opposing sides would take to the streets in force, as their leaders had asked.
The State Department urged American citizens in Venezuela to leave the country or shelter in place as the demonstrations continued.
The Federal Aviation Authority issued temporary restrictions on flights over Venezuela by airlines based in the United States. Because of the unrest, aircraft flying under 26,000 feet are prohibited from entering Venezuelan airspace, the agency said in an alert sent late on Tuesday. The same day, an Air France flight from Paris to Caracas turned back over the Atlantic because of safety concerns.
Mr. Guaidó has been backed by the Trump administration since he first declared himself interim president in January, and dozens of other countries have also thrown their support behind him, urging a peaceful transition of power.
On Wednesday morning, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took a more aggressive stance, saying in a televised interview that “military action is possible.”
“If that’s what’s required, that’s what the United States will do,” Mr. Pompeo told Fox Business Network.
An emergency meeting of the Lima Group, an 11-country body that includes Venezuela’s neighbors Colombia and Brazil, has been scheduled for Friday in response to the violence.
The group has encouraged the military to back Mr. Guaidó, and in a statement on Tuesday it denounced Mr. Maduro and what it called “the indiscriminate use of violence to repress the transition process.”
Nicholas Casey and Raphael Minder contributed reporting.