Trump Threatens Cuba as Maduro Cracks Down: Venezuela Update
(Bloomberg) -- Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido has proclaimed the end of socialist President Nicolas Maduro’s regime and called for a military uprising. It’s a highly fluid situation and the outcome is unclear. Here are the events as they unfold. Time stamp is Caracas time.
- Guaido posted a video saying “Operation Liberty” was underway
- Maduro insists on Twitter that the military still back him
- Top U.S. officials have weighed in with words of support for Guaido
- Our photo essay captures soldiers breaking ranks to join uprising
Trump Blames Havana for Repression in Caracas (5:20 p.m.)
U.S. President Donald Trump surveyed the events in Caracas today and saw Cuba as the antagonist. The Caribbean island’s socialist government has long had a presence in Venezuela, supplying the regime with personnel ranging from doctors to intelligence officers. Many in the opposition blame Cuba for humanitarian crimes inflicted on dissidents.
Trump said on Twitter:
“If Cuban Troops and Militia do not immediately CEASE military and other operations for the purpose of causing death and destruction to the Constitution of Venezuela, a full and complete embargo, together with highest-level sanctions, will be placed on the island of Cuba. Hopefully, all Cuban soldiers will promptly and peacefully return to their island!”
Lopez Seeks Refuge from Chile’s Government (3:40 p.m.)
Opposition stalwart Leopoldo Lopez, along with wife Lilian Tintori and one of their daughters, entered Chile’s ambassadorial residence in Caracas today, Foreign Minister Roberto Ampuero tweeted. Chile has had no ambassador in the country since last year.
“Chile reaffirms its solidarity with Venezuela democrats," Ampuero tweeted.
After years of strident opposition, Lopez in 2015 was sentenced to almost 14 years in prison on charges including inciting violence. He was released to house arrest in July 2017 under orders to keep quiet. His reappearance Tuesday with Guaido was a dramatic turn that appeared calculated to reinvigorate the movement.
Lopez, from his house arrest, helped orchestrate Guaido’s ascent. They met more than a decade ago during protests against Maduro’s own political tutor, Hugo Chavez, who was executing his ultimately disastrous brand of socialism. Lopez maneuvered his Popular Will party into position to assume the presidency of the gutted legislature. He then tapped Guaido, serving his first full term as a lawmaker, who rose to the top job after more senior Popular Will politicians were exiled.
Samuel Moncada, Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nations, said in New York on Tuesday that Lopez and others seeking asylum from Chile and Brazil “are abusing diplomatic imunity to create a war in Venezuela.”
Washington Promises Help for Guaido (2:55 p.m.)
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said in Washington that a peaceful transfer of power is crucial, and he promised economic help for Guaido if he assumes power. If the effort to unseat Maduro fails, Venezuela will sink into dictatorship, Bolton warned.
President Donald Trump also tweeted about the uprising: “The United States stands with the People of Venezuela and their Freedom!”
Unrest Against Regime Spreads Across Venezuela (2:40 p.m.)
Protests against Maduro have been reported in 22 of the nation’s 24 states, according to Provea, a human-rights organization.
Regime Forces Repel Opposition’s Protest March (2:30 p.m.)
Guaido, Lopez and their supporters attempted to reach the city center of Caracas, the symbolic stronghold of the government, but were blocked even before leaving the eastern district of Chacao. National police, guardsmen and armored vehicles blocked a main artery and turned back crowds with volleys of tear gas and plastic buckshot.
Skirmishes continued throughout Tuesday afternoon, and the deep boom of tear-gas canisters being fired could be heard across town.
Many of Guaido’s backers left the streets, some filling the few open restaurants for a lunch break.
The Nuanced Case Against Calling the Uprising a Coup (1:55)
As Guaido calls soldiers and civilians to the streets today to back his push to take control of the country, the word coup is being tossed around freely.
But it’s a tricky one to use in a case like this. Look it up online and the most prominent definition that pops up is this, courtesy of Oxford Dictionaries: “a sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government.”
It’s the “illegal” part of the definition that’s problematic. More than 50 countries recognize Guaido, and not the autocrat Nicolas Maduro, as the legitimate leader of Venezuela. As a result, today’s actions can be viewed simply as an attempt to hand the reins of the country to that leader and, in the process, restore democracy. Maduro and his allies, of course, disagree with this characterization.
Bloomberg News has decided against using the term and opted instead for more neutral, albeit imperfect, words such as “uprising.”
Defense Minister Says All Is Well, and Warns of Force (12:50)
Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez took to the airwaves to warn that armed forces would use weapons to defend “sovereignty and independence.” Accompanied by his top lieutenants, Lopez called those involved in the uprising “ridiculous” and insisted that Venezuela continued to operate normally. “A mediocre coup d’etat attempt has failed,” he said, adding that the high command remains loyal to Maduro.
Guaido and Lopez Join Protest March in Caracas (12:35)
Guaido and Leopoldo Lopez, his ally and mentor who escaped house arrest today, marched in the city with protesters. About noon, they led large crowds down a main eastern Caracas avenue, flanked by couple of guardsmen and National Assembly congressmen. The crowd chanted "freedom!" and headed west.
Exiled Soldiers Await Instructions at the Border (12:15)
About 100 former members of the Venezuelan armed forces are gathering near the Simon Bolivar bridge in Cucuta, Colombia, to wait for orders, Jose Nieto, a former National Guard sergeant major, said by telephone. "As soon as we knew about Operation Liberty, we went to the bridge. The instructions are to maintain discipline, wait for orders. We have our adrenaline pumping and we hope to return to Venezuela soon."
Protesters Break Through Military Base Fence (Noon)
Protesters rallying behind Venezuelan Guaido’s calls to take to the streets broke through a barrier around La Carlota air base, where soldiers staged an uprising this morning. Guardsmen inside the base continued to repel demonstrators and disperse crowds with tear gas, high-pressure hoses and plastic pellets. People launched barrages of rocks and Molotov cocktails at armored vehicles patrolling its perimeter.
CNN video showed one armored car accelerating into a crowd of demonstrators, apparently crushing some, who were aided by comrades.
Local authorities have so far not reported any deaths, but confirmed multiple injuries.
Finance Minister Says Justice Coming (11:30 a.m.)
Venezuelan Finance Minister Simon Zerpa says, “I imagine justice should be taken care of,” responding to Juan Guaido’s call for an uprising. Today’s events are a “new failure” by the U.S. and the Venezuelan opposition, Zerpa said in an interview with Bloomberg. "Once again, the support of the people is felt,” he said. “The opposition played its cards badly.”
Can Maduro ride this out? (11:18 am.)
Venezuela is pretty much a broken state -- food and medicine shortages, power cuts, hyperinflation -- and discontent has reached boiling point. More than three months ago, Guaido burst on the scene -- a relative unknown -- to declare himself acting president. Yet, in spite of the U.S. and other Western powers giving him recognition, the generals did not abandon Maduro, nor did Russia and China. That allowed Maduro to dig in and try and ride it out. Until today, it looked like he might have succeeded.
That is why, given the contradictory version of events it’s important to exercise caution.
Has this affected oil? (11:20 a.m.)
Venezuela’s oil minister Manuel Quevedo says in a tweet that PDVSA’s operations are normal and that oil workers support Maduro. The state oil giant has been a lightning rod for the power tussle between Maduro and Guaido, whose camp took control of Citgo, a U.S. subsidiary of PDVSA. Oil production in Venezuela has dipped so low that the owner of the world’s largest reserves has begun importing crude for the first time in five years. The U.S. has issued sanctions on PDVSA that effectively block Venezuela from exporting crude to the U.S., its biggest customer.
‘Significant Part’ of Army With Guaido: Adviser (11:05 a.m.)
There’s now a “significant part” of the military supporting Juan Guaido’s legitimate claim to organize an interim government, Ricardo Hausmann, a Harvard professor and adviser to Guaido, said in an interview. “The military have gone to liberate Leopoldo Lopez and are there not to gain power for themselves but to reinstate the constitution.”
Guaido’s latest whereabouts (10:40 a.m.)
Flanked by masked soldiers and fellow congressman, Guaido left the highway outside the La Carlota military base and rallied supporters to nearby park in east Caracas. Thousands are gathering to hear him speak at the Plaza Altamira, which has long been a popular staging ground for protests against Maduro and his predecessor the late Hugo Chavez. It may be a troubling sign, however, for the brewing uprising that the opposition is abandoning their push to breach the airbase so quickly and the government insists it maintains military support.
Trump hasn’t tweeted yet, but here’s Pence (10:38 a.m.)
Meanwhile Senator Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. Senate, tweets that Bolton call this morning “with a briefing on the unfolding drama in Venezuela.”
Maduro Says Commanders Expressed Loyalty (10:30 a.m.)
Maduro has just got on Twitter to forcefully claim that the commanders still back him. Ultimately his future will depend on which way they go.
He tweets that he spoke to regional military commanders who expressed “total loyalty.”
Has the military swung? That is biggest question (10:13 a.m.)
The big unknown still is the extent of the military support that has swung behind Guaido (and his ally and mentor Leopoldo Lopez, who was freed from house arrest). The duo were seen earlier at La Carlota military base in Caracas, where they were flanked by dozens of national guard members who wore blue bracelets and armbands to signal their allegiance. Soldiers and ordinary people have been seen joining the uprising in small numbers as the morning goes on. But the military has long been loyal to Maduro, and his ministers say the defections are not significant in size.
Where are the Russians in all this (10:09 a.m.)
The Russians, as the Chinese, are key players in how all this will unravel. They are the financial lifeline to the Maduro regime.
Russian military specialists will not intervene in conflict between opposition, Nicolas Maduro’s government in Venezuela, Interfax reported, citing Russian embassy in Caracas. “These are not the kind of troops who conduct combat operations,” Interfax quotes unnamed press official in the Russian mission in Caracas.
U.S. ambivalent on giving military backing (9:40 a.m.)
The U.S. has stayed resolutely ambiguous so far on whether it might provide military support to Guaido, with President Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton insisting that the administration has been “clear about all options on the table.” That leaves it unclear how the U.S. would respond if Guaido asked for military support.
Here is some official reaction too from the U.S. military: "We are monitoring the recent developments in Venezuela closely and are in close contact with our interagency partners and senior chain of command. At the present time, U.S. Southern Command’s mission remains unchanged."
Pompeo Tweets (9 a.m.)
Here is the photo image on the video Guaido posted of himself
Maduro is digging in, as protesters gather (9 a.m.)
The regime promised the rebellion would be quelled. Venezuela is "confronting and deactivating a small group of military traitors" who positioned themselves "to promote a coup d’etat against the constitution and the peace of the Republic," Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said on Twitter. He called on citizens to resist them.
Senator Marco Rubio, who has helped shape U.S. policy on Venezuela, was tweeting early.
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