A supporter holds a sign during a campaign rally for Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s president, in Caracas, Venezuela. (Photographer: Carlos Becerra/Bloomberg)

Maduro Defies Trump on Venezuela With Vow to Resist Intervention

(Bloomberg) -- Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said “we’re getting ready to defend our country” as the U.S. presses him to cede power.

While President Donald Trump signaled he’s confident a transition of power to opposition leader Juan Guaido is under way and said the use of U.S. military force in Venezuela remains “an option,” Maduro went on Spanish television to denounce foreign meddling.

“Nobody in the world can come and disavow our constitution and our institutions and try and impose ultimatums,” Maduro told broadcaster La Sexta in comments aired Sunday, referring to attempts by Spain and other European Union countries to set a deadline for an early presidential election. Venezuela’s armed forces and civilian militias are preparing for an invasion, he said.

The allegiances of the military, Venezuela’s most powerful institution, may determine the outcome of the power struggle between Maduro and Guaido, who lawmakers named interim president in January. The U.S. and two dozen other countries recognize Guaido as the country’s rightful leader and are pressuring the ruling socialists to give up power.

Trump vs. Maduro

In an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Trump said he isn’t inclined to negotiate with Maduro to persuade him to leave. “I think the process is playing out” as Venezuelans take to the streets to protest, he said.

“If you talk about democracy, it’s really democracy in action,” Trump said.

That pressure may be changing the dynamic in Venezuela. No one was hurt and there were only three arrests, despite thousands of opposing demonstrators protesting near each other.

In 2014 and 2017, Venezuelan security forces cracked down on protesters. Even this January, almost 1,000 people were arrested as tensions brewed to the point that Guaido was named as Maduro’s interim successor, and Maduro forces have carried out raids, some deadly, in Caracas’s slums.

Venezuela Violence

Maduro may fear that any crackdown would be counterproductive or begin a spiraling backlash. He appears to be avoiding a situation that would force the military to choose sides, especially under so much international pressure.

“One of the reasons is that military and security forces don’t want to risk to detain people, given the great scrutiny from the international community, especially from high-ranking U.S. officials,” said Mariano de Alba, a Venezuelan political analyst.

“There is also great anticipation inside the military and security forces on what the political outcome may be and they don’t want confrontation,” he said.

On Sunday, European Union countries signaled they’re moving toward backing Guaido’s legitimacy.

France will recognize him as interim president until there are “legitimate” elections if Maduro doesn’t announce a new presidential vote by Sunday night, European Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau said.

Canada Backs Guaido

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with Guaido on Sunday to discuss “the importance of the international community sending a clear message regarding the illegitimacy of the Maduro regime” and the need for a presidential election, Trudeau’s office said in a statement.

Maduro and Guaido have made a point of reaching out to the armed forces. After an air force general broke with Maduro on Saturday, Guaido appealed to the armed forces for support at a rally with his supporters.

“I have absolute certainty that change is very near in Venezuela,” Guaido, 35, told the crowd of thousands.

Three miles away, Maduro, who was elected president in 2013 and rigged his re-election last year, told thousands of red-clad supporters and soldiers: “Venezuela doesn’t surrender. Venezuela charges forward.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.