Nicolas Maduro urged Americans not to let Donald Trump turn Venezuela into “another Vietnam” Wednesday, as both he and his rival Juan Guaidó directly pitched the U.S. public for their support.
Speaking in Spanish in an English-subtitled Facebook video, the embattled leader said he was sending “a message to the people of the United States” to warn them about a disinformation campaign in the international media against his government.
“This campaign has been prepared to justify a coup d’etat in Venezuela that has been set, financed and actively supported by the Donald Trump administration,” he said.
“As they cannot invent that Venezuela and Maduro have weapons of mass destruction… they now invent lies every day, false news, to justify an aggression against our country.”
He urged Americans to “not allow another war like Vietnam in Latin America” and warned that if the U.S. took military action, “they will have a much worse Vietnam than you could imagine.”
He also claimed that leaders in Washington were motivated by the desire to “to put their hands on” Venezuela’s massive oil reserves, “as they did in Iraq and Libya.”
Maduro is facing a drive to oust him from power by opposition leader Guaidó, who has also laid claim to the presidency.
The Venezuelan president’s Facebook video was posted hours after his rival had an op-ed published in The New York Times, pitching his case as legitimate leader of the country and calling for support.
In the article, Guaidó, the 35-year-old head of the country’s National Assembly, said Maduro’s re-election in May last year had been illegitimate, and that his original six-year term should have ended earlier in January. “By continuing to stay in office, Nicolás Maduro is usurping the presidency,” he wrote.
Guaidó stressed that his move to assume the role of interim president earlier this month couldn’t be considered a “self-proclamation,” as he had taken it “in adherence to the Constitution.”
He also revealed that his camp had held secret meeting with members of the armed forces and security services, seen as critical power brokers in the country’s political struggle.
Guaidó said he had offered amnesty to all those who weren’t found not guilty of crimes against humanity — and claimed “the majority of those in service” agreed with him on the need for change in the country.
The armed forces play a key role in propping up Maduro’s government, and while there have been significant defections, such as Col. José Luis Silva, Venezuela's top military representative to the U.S., the majority of the top brass appear to be standing with Maduro for now.
Donald Trump, whose government has recognized Guaidó as interim president and slapped sanctions on Venezuela’s state oil company, also chimed in Wednesday, tweeting that he had spoken to “congratulate him on his historic assumption of the presidency” and reinforce the U.S.’s “strong support” for his fight.
Trump hailed the fresh anti-Maduro protests that broke out across the country Wednesday, tweeting: “The fight for freedom has begun!”
The opposition has called for further protests on Saturday. In the past week, 35 people have died in opposition protests, most of them shot by security forces, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict. More than 800 people have been detained.
While Washington is standing behind Guaidó, Maduro’s key international backer in the power struggle is Russia, a major investor in Venezuela’s economy. On Wednesday, Maduro told Russian news agency RIA he was prepared to hold talks with the opposition “so that we could talk for the good of Venezuela,” saying he had sent letters to the governments of Russia, Bolivia, Mexico, and Uruguay to involve them in the talks.
That move was commended by the Kremlin, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov telling reporters: “The fact that President Maduro is open to dialogue with the opposition deserves high praise.”
Guaidó, who has been banned from leaving Venezuela and has had his bank accounts frozen amid the standoff, has not yet responded to the offer of dialogue.
Cover image: Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela's president, gestures during a state of the union address in Caracas, Venezuela, on Monday, Jan. 14, 2018. (Carlos Becerra/Bloomberg via Getty Images)