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Venezuelan opposition leader takes to the street claiming military support to oust Maduro

Juan Guaidó posted a video to Twitter that said his actions were the “final phase” of what he called “Operation Freedom."

by Alex Lubben
May 1 2019, 12:58pm

This post was updated at 12:15 p.m. ET.

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Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, flanked by a small group of heavily armed soldiers, took to the streets of Caracas Tuesday to call for nonviolent protests and a military-led ouster of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Standing outside of a military base in eastern Caracas, Guaidó — who first declared himself interim president in January — posted a video to Twitter that said his actions marked the “final phase” of his attempt to liberate the country from Maduro’s government. He called on the country's military and all Venezuelans to join his movement. But it’s not clear how much military support Guaidó has at the moment, and Maduro’s government maintains that the majority of forces still support the president.

“The armed forces are clearly on the side of the people,” Guaidó said in the video as he gestured to the armed men standing behind him. "We’re going to stand here together asking and demanding the military to join," Guaidó added, according to CNN.

As tensions escalated on the ground in Venezuela, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence expressed their support for Guaidó’s attempt to take power. “Today interim President Juan Guaidó announced start of Operación Libertad,” Pompeo tweeted. “The U.S. government fully supports the Venezuelan people in their quest for freedom and democracy.”

The international response has been more varied. In neighboring Colombia, president Ivan Duque voiced his support for Guaidó. Brazil, which also shares a border with Venezuela, joined in backing the opposition's uprising and called for a democratic transition. Mexico, Spain and the United Nations, meanwhile, urged restraint and peaceful dialogue.

READ: Inside the UN's first tent camp for Venezuelans who fled Colombia

Much of the action appeared to be taking place in the opposition’s stronghold of eastern Caracas, where Guaidó’s supporters responded to his call to take to the streets. Demonstrations soon turned violent. Pro-opposition supporters could be seen throwing stones and teargas canisters at soldiers inside the base, while military vehicles were captured on video plowing into protestors.

Guaidó addressed a crowd of supporters at the base on Tuesday: “Today it is clear to us that the Armed Forces are with the people and not with the dictator,” he said, according to the Guardian. “We know that all Venezuelans are in favor of change and the Constitution.”

He was joined by Leopoldo Lopez, his mentor and longtime leader of the opposition. Lopez has been under house arrest since 2014 for staging anti-government protests and said in a tweet that soldiers had released him.

Caracas coup
Opponents to Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro throw stones at soldiers loyal to the president inside La Carlota airbase in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, April 30, 2019. Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó took to the streets with activist Leopoldo Lopez and a small contingent of heavily armed troops early Tuesday in a bold and risky call for the military to rise up and oust socialist leader Nicolas Maduro. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

But it remains far from clear if Guaidó’s latest push for power will render the widespread military support he needs to wrest control from Maduro.

Maduro, for one, appeared prepared to wait him out. The beleaguered president took to Twitter to say that he’d spoken with the country’s military leaders who had assured him of their “total loyalty to the people, the constitution, and the fatherland.”

Earlier, Jorge Rodríguez, Maduro’s information minister, tweeted that the government was “confronting and deactivating a small group of military traitors” who were attempting to promote a coup. Loyalists in Maduro’s government also called for the constitution of the state to be upheld and denounced the international support that Guaidó has received, all while insisting that the majority of the country’s military forces still support the Maduro government.

Internet monitoring group NetBlocks reported that access to major platforms, like YouTube, Bing, Google and Android services, are currently being “restricted” in Venezuela.

Tuesday’s stand-off in Caracas marks the most significant attempt at a coup from Guaidó. In the months since he declared himself interim president, Guaidó has been recognized by more than 50 governments — including the U.S. and most of its allies — but hasn’t been able to mount a lasting power grab for the presidency. On Tuesday, it appeared that Guaidó was attempting to do just that.

Maduro has presided over years of economic turmoil in Venezuela. Hyperinflation has roiled the country’s economy, and food and medicine shortages have become increasingly common — none of which was helped by the ratcheting up of U.S. sanctions. Power outages have also grown more frequent during his presidency, and the spiraling crisis has led millions to flee Venezuela for neighboring countries.

Cover image: Venezuela's opposition leader and self-proclaimed president Juan Guaido talks to an Army officer outside La Carlota air base in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, April 30, 2019. Guaido took to the streets with a small contingent of armed soldiers and detained activist Leopoldo Lopez calling for a military uprising. (AP Photo/Boris Vergara)

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