Unraveling Venezuela’s coup. The “final phase” of opposition leader Juan Guaido’s attempt to remove Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from office began this morning, Tuesday, April 30, 2019
“Operacion Libertad” (Operation Liberty) as Guaido has dubbed it, has enlisted the support of some army officers and rank-and-file soldiers, and there are calls for more to defect.
Guaido is promising the largest political demonstrations in the country’s history tomorrow, May 1, but tens of thousands are already in the streets of Caracas and other cities showing their support for the uprising.
Police have used tear gas and water cannons against the crowds and national guard vehicles have been filmed driving into a cluster of stone-throwing protesters.
Guaido is telling his supporters that “the time is now” to overthrow the socialist regime, while Maduro has promised to show “nerves of steel” in facing down the attempted coup.
On CNN this afternoon, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Wolf Blitzer that Maduro was ready to leave Venezuela “this morning” but was talked out of it by Russia.
Whatever the outcome, it’s a significant escalation in the crisis that has gripped the country.
Annual inflation in Venezuela hit more than 1.3 million percent last year, and almost 80 percent of Venezuelan households can’t afford enough to eat. Major blackouts has crippled what’s left of the economy and tens of thousands people have fled the country.
Now comes the very real threat of violent conflict.
Some 54 countries, including the United States, Canada, Latin American and European countries, already recognize Guaido as the country’s legitimate leader.
But today, there’s little question that his strongest support is found in the Donald Trump administration.
To @jguaido, the National Assembly and all the freedom-loving people of Venezuela who are taking to the streets today in #operacionlibertad—Estamos con ustedes! We are with you! America will stand with you until freedom & democracy are restored. Vayan con dios! #FreeVenezuela
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) April 30, 2019
Pompeo would not say when asked by Wolf Blitzer if the U.S. had advance knowledge of the uprising. Monday night, at an event in Washington, Pompeo issued a stern warning to Maduro’s few remaining international backers.
“Maduro is going to leave,” he said, claiming that the governments of Cuba, Russia and China “will be in a far better place if they choose a different path,” and side with the Venezuelan opposition, making note of sanctions that the U.S. government has recently imposed against Havana.
But for Russia it’s not that easy to let Maduro go, having loaned billions to Maduro’s government, and last month by sending two military aircraft to Caracas, carrying 100 advisors and 32 tons of equipment.
And on Monday, in an interview with the Miami Herald, Guaido claimed that Cuba has dispatched as many as 40,000 military and intelligence advisors to Venezuela, including 2,500 who are there to “track and persecute” opposition supporters within Venezuela’s armed forces.
For the moment, however, it doesn’t appear that the Americans intend to send in troops to Venezuela. Or even pay for somebody else’s soldiers. But the White House is not ruling out a military option.
I am monitoring the situation in Venezuela very closely. The United States stands with the People of Venezuela and their Freedom!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 30, 2019
Reuters reported Tuesday that the Trump administration turned down a recent proposal from Erik Prince, the founder of the mercenary firm Blackwater, to hire and dispatch up to 5,000 private soldiers to support Guaido’s efforts to topple Maduro, calling the plan “too dangerous and far-fetched”.
What Guaido does have going for him is financial muscle.
Back in February, Guaido was given by the Trump administration access to U.S. bank accounts containing billions belonging to the Venezuelan state-owned oil company, PDVSA.
The U.S. has also been busy trying to cut off Maduro’s access to foreign funds and imposing sanctions.