Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says American military action in Venezuela is a possibility ‘if that’s what’s required’ as US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido tries to oust President Nicolas Maduro from power.
Pompeo, speaking on Fox Business, said: ‘The president has been crystal clear and incredibly consistent. Military action is possible. If that’s what’s required, that’s what the United States will do.’
Any military action by America would raise the prospect of conflict with Russia, which is a staunch ally of the Maduro regime and is thought to have mercenaries in the country protecting the President.
Pompeo spoke out as Guaido urged protesters on to the streets for a second day of action, after declaring the start of a ‘military uprising’ on Tuesday that descended into a series of bloody clashes in the capital Caracas and elsewhere that left at least one dead and 100 injured.
Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, says that military action in Venezuela ‘is possible’ raising fears of conflict with Russia, which heavily backs Nicolas Maduro’s regime and is thought to have mercenaries in the country guarding him
Juan Guaido issued a rallying cry to his supporters via Twitter on Tuesday night in which he urged people back on to the streets for fresh May Day protests against Nicolas Maduro, following a day of violent clashes in Caracas
Guaido launched what he called the ‘final phase of Operation Liberty’ to force Maduro from power on Tuesday before demonstration in Caracas descended into violence (pictured, masked and armed supporters of Maduro in the capital)
Guaido and Maduro are wrestling for control of Venezuela’s military, which will be key to deciding its future. A small band of troops have defected to the opposition leader (pictured) but the majority seemed to remain loyal to Maduro
Pro-Guaido supporters are seen near the La Carlota airbase in the capital Caracas, which was seized by those loyal to the opposition leader on Tuesday, and formed the focal point of clashes
Government security forces fired tear gas at demonstrators and on at least one occasion opened fire with live ammunition, though there were no reports of casualties
Police officers who switched loyalty from the government to back Guaido and his supporters stand guard in front of the group of demonstrators in Caracas
Guaido promised the ‘largest march’ in Venezuela’s history as he branded Maduro ‘a tyrant who locks himself away in fear’ in a videotaped rallying cry posted on Twitter overnight Tuesday.
The pair are locked in a battle for control of the military, which will be key to deciding Venezuela’s future. While Guaido claimed he is ‘the legitimate commander of the armed forces’ in his video, Maduro used his his own TV address to insist that he retains control of the troops.
Pompeo was also due to speak with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, on Wednesday about the situation in Venezuela, according to National Security Adviser John Bolton.#
It comes after the Secretary of State claimed that Maduro wanted to leave the country on a plane Tuesday, but was told to stay in place by Moscow, calling the intervention ‘unwelcome’.
Bolton elaborated on those remarks, adding: ‘This is our hemisphere. ‘It’s not where the Russians ought to be interfering. This is a mistake on their part. It’s not going to lead to an improvement of relations.’
In his own address to Venezuelans on Tuesday night, Guaido issued a rallying cry for his ‘uprising’.
In footage posted on Twitter, he said: ‘My fellow Venezuelans, good evening. This is your acting president Juan Guaido, the legitimate commander of the armed forces.
‘The regime’s claim that it has control of the arms forces is a farce. Maduro does not have the backing, nor the respect of the armed forces.
‘Nor does it of the Venezuelan people because it (government) doesn’t protect anyone, doesn’t provide results, doesn’t provide solutions.
He continued: ‘Tomorrow, May 1, we will continue with this, we will continue out on the street, in meeting points throughout Venezuela. We will be out on the streets, we will see you out on the streets, on our territory.
‘This is not a coup in Venezuela but rather a peaceful (transition), like that we saw today, against a tyrant who locks himself away in fear…
‘We Venezuelans have the chance to conquer our futures, for the definitive phase of Operation Liberty, for an end to the usurpation. Tomorrow, all of Venezuela to the streets.’
At least one high-ranking official announced he was breaking with Maduro and joining Guaido on Tuesday, in the most serious setback so-far for the embattled President.
In a Tuesday night appearance on national television, Mr Maduro declared that the opposition had attempted to impose an ‘illegitimate government’ with the support of the United States and neighbouring Colombia.
He said Venezuela had been a victim of ‘aggression of all kinds’.
The competing quests to solidify a hold on power capped a dramatic day that included a tense moment when several armoured vehicles ploughed into a group of anti-government demonstrators trying to storm the capital’s air base, hitting at least two protesters.
Pro-Government military forces face off with pro-Guaido supporters close to the La Carlota airbase in the capital Caracas
A pro-Guaido supporter holds a tear gas canister near La Carlota airbase where hundred of people gathered to confront Pro-Government military forces
At one point armoured cars of the National Guard (GNB), which has largely remained loyal to Maduro, drove at protesters and ran several of them over
Demonstrations against Maduro spread around the world following Guaido’s rallying cry, as police clashed with crowds in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Tuesday night
Venezuelan citizens protest against President Nicolas Maduro outside the Venezuelan embassy in San Jose, California
US National Security Adviser John Bolton said the Trump administration was waiting for three key officials, including Mr Maduro’s defence minister and head of the supreme court, to act on what he said were private pledges to remove Mr Maduro. He did not provide details.
The stunning events began early Tuesday when Mr Guaido, flanked by a few dozen national guardsmen and some armoured crowd-control vehicles, released the three-minute video shot near the Carlota air base.
Venezuela crisis: Which countries are supporting the opposition?
Support for Nicolas Maduro’s regime comes from Russia, China, Turkey, Mexico and Iran, wheres the EU, United States, Canada, Australia and neighbours Brazil recognise Juan Guaido as leader of Venezuela
Supporting ‘interim’ President Juan Guaido:
- United States
- United Kingdom
- Costa Rica
- The EU 27
Supporting incumbent President Nicolas Maduro:
In a surprise, Leopoldo Lopez, Mr Guaido’s political mentor and the nation’s most prominent opposition activist, stood alongside him.
Detained in 2014 for leading a previous round of anti-government unrest, Mr Lopez said he had been released from house arrest by security forces adhering to an order from Mr Guaido.
‘I want to tell the Venezuelan people: This is the moment to take to the streets and accompany these patriotic soldiers,’ Mr Lopez declared.
As the two opposition leaders coordinated actions from an overpass, troops loyal to Mr Maduro fired tear gas from inside the adjacent air base.
A crowd that quickly swelled to a few thousand scurried for cover, reappearing later with Mr Guaido at a plaza a few blocks from the disturbances.
A smaller group of masked youths stayed behind, lobbing rocks and Molotov cocktails toward the air base and setting a government bus on fire.
Amid the mayhem, several armoured utility vehicles careened over a berm and drove at full speed into the crowd.
Two demonstrators, lying on the ground with their heads and legs bloodied, were rushed away on a motorcycle as the vehicles sped away dodging fireballs thrown by the demonstrators.
‘It’s now or never,’ said one of the young rebellious soldiers, his face covered in the blue bandanna worn by the few dozen insurgent soldiers.
The head of a medical centre near the site of the street battles said doctors were treating 50 people, about half of them with injuries suffered from rubber bullets.
At least one person had been shot with live ammunition. Venezuelan human rights group Provea said a 24-year-old man was shot and killed during an anti-government protest in the city of La Victoria.
Later on Tuesday, Mr Lopez and his family sought refuge in the Chilean ambassador’s residence in Caracas, where another political ally has been holed up for over a year. They later moved to the Spanish embassy. There were also reports that 25 troops who had been with Mr Guaido fled to Brazil’s diplomatic mission.
Amid the confusion, Mr Maduro tried to project an image of strength, saying he had spoken to several regional military commanders who reaffirmed their loyalty.
‘Nerves of steel!’ he said in a message posted on Twitter.
Flanked by top military commanders, Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez condemned Mr Guaido’s move as a ‘terrorist’ act and ‘coup attempt’ that was bound to fail like past uprisings.
‘Those who try to take Miraflores with violence will be met with violence,’ he said on national television, referring to the presidential palace where hundreds of government supporters, some of them brandishing firearms, had gathered in response to a call to defend Mr Maduro.
President Nicolas Maduro, left, flanked by three of Venezuela’s most senior military figures, give a TV address asserting his control over the country and denouncing what he called a coup by ‘fascists and the extreme right’
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s supporters gather holding banners and flags during a demonstration in Caracas
Maduro and his supporters (pictured) argue that Guaido’s ‘uprising’ is actually a right-wing coup by American ‘imperialists’ to destroy the socialist regime
Thousands of pro-Maduro activists march through the streets of Caracas on Tuesday, where clashes broke out with Guaido’s supporters with fear of more violence on Wednesday
enezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s supporters gather holding banners and flags in the capital Caracas
But in a possible sign that Mr Maduro’s inner circle could be fracturing, the head of Venezuela’s secret police penned a letter breaking ranks with the embattled leader.
Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera, the head of Venezuela’s feared SEBIN intelligence agency, wrote a letter to the Venezuelan people saying that while he has always been loyal to Mr Maduro it is now time to ‘rebuild the country’.
He lamented that corruption has become so rampant that ‘many high-ranking public servants practice it like a sport’.
‘The hour has arrived for us to look for other ways of doing politics,’ he wrote. ‘To build the homeland our children and grandchildren deserve.’
The letter circulating on social media was confirmed by a senior US official. He said the general’s wife is currently outside the country.
Mr Guaido said he called for the uprising to restore Venezuela’s constitutional order, broken when Mr Maduro was sworn in earlier this year for a second term following elections boycotted by the opposition and considered illegitimate by dozens of countries.
‘The armed forces have taken the right decision,’ said Mr Guaido. ‘With the support of the Venezuelan people and the backing of our constitution they are on the right side of history.’
Why overthrowing Maduro in Venezuela would spell disaster for Putin
Russia is one of the key allies of Maduro’s regime and – according to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – the only reason he is still in the country, after Moscow ordered him not to flee as protests broke out on Tuesday.
One of the main reasons that Putin is backing Maduro so heavily comes down to oil and the billions of dollars that the Kremlin has pumped into Venezuela’s drilling industry.
Russia and its state-owned oil giant Rosneft have invested almost $9billion in its Venezuelan counterpart PDVSA since 2009, while Moscow has also handed the country some $17billion in loans, underwritten by the oil reserves on which Maduro sits – the largest anywhere in the world.
Should control of the country swap to Guaido, who is backed by the US, then it is likely that Russia will never see another cent of this money repaid.
Meanwhile Venezuela is also a major buyer of Russian weapons, having purchased $11billion worth of tanks, missile defence systems, fighter jets and other small arms between 2005 and 2013.
The repayments on these weapons will almost certainly be lost if Guaido takes power, while any future weapons orders will likely be taken over by America.
Venezuela is also a major importer of Russia grain, and has ties to the country’s banking industry.
Perhaps more than resources and revenue, however, Russia is also keen to maintain a strategic and ideological foothold in America’s backyard, from which it can project its influence across the region.
As Mikael Wigell, a researcher from the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, told RFE/RL: ‘Establishing close relations with Venezuela gives Moscow a certain nuisance power in relation to the United States, and that can be used as a bargaining chip in future dealings with the United States.
‘It also can be kind of a showcase for Russia’s aspirations to be considered a global power.’