US Calls On Venezuela's Military To Join Opposition Leader's Camp

Saul Bowman
February 3, 2019

Venezuelan President Niсolas Maduro has called for early elections to the National Assembly - a legislative body dominated by the opposition and led by Juan Guaido who declared himself interim leader last week.

Almost two weeks after declaring himself acting head of state, Guaudi told supporters that "change in Venezuela is imminent".

Maduro's statement comes as thousands are rallying in the streets of Caracas both in support of and against his government. Ahead of the rally, Maduro praised the Chavez-led "revolution" in tweet which showed the leftist leader during his swearing-in ceremony.

"Today is the anniversary of 20 years of work, fight, advances and important achievements, despite the difficulties and imperial conspiracies", the president said on twitter.

"[Guaido] was sworn in in front of the national assembly that was elected in fair elections and he is doing what he has to do according to our constitution", she said.

In his speech, the self-proclaimed president decried Maduro as an "usurper".

"There are between 250,000 and 300,000 Venezuelans at risk of dying", he told the crowd.

The national security advisor to US President Donald Trump, John Bolton, late Saturday called on the Venezuelan military and on employees of the country's Central Bank to side with the opposition amid the ongoing political crisis. The Trump administration has banned USA companies from doing business with PDVSA but allowed a six-month grace period for companies with ongoing operations in the South American country.

Guaido supporters have vowed to ratchet up the pressure on Maduro as he faces a deadline to announce the new vote.

Besides the United States, several European and Latin American countries are supporting Guaido, and the European Parliament recognized him as Venezuela's "legitimate interim President".

Xiomara Espinoza, 59, said she felt a change of energy in the crowd, whose hopes for a transition in Venezuela have previously been dashed. Spain's state-run EFE news agency said three of its journalists were freed Thursday after being detained overnight in Venezuela's capital.

An anti-Maduro rally was also held in the Spanish city of Barcelona, with some 1,500 people, many of them Venezuelan immigrants, attending the event.

The EU legislature also approved a resolution that condemned the continued violence and the detention of journalists who sought to cover events there.

Hours before the rival ralies were set to start, a senior officer of the military's high command rejected the authority of Nicolas Maduro and endorsed his opposition rival.

"People of Venezuela, 90 percent of the armed forces of Venezuela are not with the dictator, they are with the people of Venezuela", Yanez said in the video.

"The time of democracy has arrived". He called on the civilians to "take to the streets and peacefully defend our president Juan Guaido".

But Maduro has refused an opposition call for early presidential elections, and he was firm Saturday about his role as the country's leader.

"Let him leave!" he says in the video.

Venezuela's aerospace command of the armed forces shared a picture of Yanez on its Twitter account with the words "traitor" above it.

Guaido called on "blocks" of the military to defect from Maduro's administration and "get on the side of the Venezuelan people".

The military's support is crucial for the embattled Maduro, who is deeply unpopular largely due to an unprecedented economic crisis that has prompted an exodus of millions, but claims he is victim of a coup directed by the United States.

The bloc did not come out in support of Guaido after a meeting of foreign ministers in Bucharest, Romania, to discuss the crisis, but European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini announced the establishment of a 90-day global conduct group with European Union and Latin American states to "promote common understanding aiming at a peaceful and democratic outcome".

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