Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro, who refused to leave power after the nation’s legislature constitutionally replaced him with current President Juan Guaidó, claimed on Tuesday that the nation’s military still supported him after Guaidó appeared alongside soldiers urging citizens to take to the streets.
Guaidó – alongside now-freed political prisoner Leopoldo López – appeared at the La Carlota airbase near Caracas early morning Tuesday announcing that the leaders of the nation’s armed forces had finally agreed to stop supporting Maduro and recognize him as the nation’s commander in chief. Guaidó urged citizens to flock to military installations near them to support the military as they removed the last vestiges of the Maduro regime from power.
Maduro, on Twitter, claimed that Guaidó was lying.
“Nerves of steel! I have spoken to the commanders of all the [armed forces] of the country, who have manifested their total loyalty to the People, the Constitution, and the Nation,” Maduro wrote. “I call for the maximum popular mobilization to ensure the victory of Peace. We will triumph!”
¡Nervios de Acero! He conversado con los Comandantes de todas las REDI y ZODI del País, quienes me han manifestado su total lealtad al Pueblo, a la Constitución y a la Patria. Llamo a la máxima movilización popular para asegurar la victoria de la Paz. ¡Venceremos!
— Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) April 30, 2019
Maduro’s Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López also issued a statement on Twitter claiming that the armed forces “report normalcy in all the barracks and military bases under the control of their natural commanders.” Padrino also called Guaidó’s move a “coup” and accused him of “causing terror.”
La FANB se mantiene firme en defensa de la Constitución Nacional y sus autoridades legítimas. Todas las unidades militares desplegadas en las ocho Regiones de Defensa Integral reportan normalidad en sus cuarteles y bases militares, bajo el mando de sus comandantes naturales.
— Vladimir Padrino L. (@vladimirpadrino) April 30, 2019
Rechazamos este movimiento golpista que pretende llenar de violencia al país. Los seudo líderes políticos que se han colocado al frente de este movimiento subversivo, han empleado tropas y policías con armas de guerra en una vía pública de la la ciudad para crear zozobra y terror
— Vladimir Padrino L. (@vladimirpadrino) April 30, 2019
Live footage from the ground, as reported by regional media, clearly show soldiers uniting behind Guaidó. NTN24, a Venezuelan news broadcaster, published dramatic videos at a Guaidó rally in Caracas of soldiers embracing before crowds chanting “patriots!” and celebrating their choice to no longer recognize Maduro. Soldiers have also begun wearing blue bands on their uniforms to indicate that they support Guaidó. Guaidó also appeared personally alongside soldiers at the Carlota airbase before dawn. One soldier, who spoke on behalf of those recognizing Guaidó, insisted that they did not want confrontation with the Maduro loyalists, merely recognition of the legality of Guaidó’s status as president.
According to the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional, the head of the military wing supporting Guaidó is General José Adelino Ornella Ferreira, a previously staunch Maduro loyalist appointed to run Venezuela’s Strategic Command Operations in July 2018. The newspaper says Ornella once participated in the failed coup orchestrated by Hugo Chávez in 1992 and has since supported both the late dictator and his successor. Maduro’s supporters deny his involvement, while National Assembly leaders insist he is leading the charge. Ornella has not appeared in public supporting either side at press time.
VTV, Venezuela’s socialist state propaganda network, began publishing videos Tuesday of alleged Maduro supporters rejecting Guaidó. One man, identified as Jacobo Torres, tells VTV that Venezuela is “entirely calm” and that the nation has ignored Guaidó’s call to the streets.
#EnVideo 📹| Constituyente Jacobo Torres desde Miraflores: Todo el país está en absoluta calma este es un grupo sedicioso que lo que está es intentando hacer un guión para el exterior y desde aquí le decimos al mundo entenro que no podrán y no volverán pic.twitter.com/hAjOQjfhDz
— VTV CANAL 8 (@VTVcanal8) April 30, 2019
Reports on the scene estimate that thousands have heeded Guaidó’s call and flocked towards La Carlota airbase. The soldiers at the airbase allowed many in to support Guaidó, who later moved the civilians to nearby Altamira Plaza.
— Thomas van Linge (@ThomasVLinge) April 30, 2019
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) April 30, 2019
Leopoldo López, freed by soldiers after years of imprisonment and house arrest for organizing protests against Maduro, told reporters that his group was in contact with Maduro’s officers.
“There has been communication all this time, and that has to do with this process we have constructed,” López insisted.
Guaidó became president of Venezuela in January after the National Assembly invoked the Venezuelan constitution to oust Maduro. As Maduro had assumed power that month following an illegitimate election, the constitution provided that the National Assembly could move for a restoration of the democratic order. Guaidó’s mandate as interim president is to bring humanitarian aid into the country and organize free and fair elections.
Most of Latin America and many states around the world, including America, recognize Guaidó as Venezuela’s president, but Guaidó has largely failed to be able to govern – and has been blocked from Miraflores, the presidential palace – by soldiers loyal to Maduro. While many lower-ranking soldiers have accepted Guaidó as commander in chief, Maduro maintains significant control over the higher spheres of influence in the military through right-hand man Diosdado Cabello, who the United States considers a drug kingpin. Cabello is believed to run the Cartel de los Soles, an international cocaine trafficking syndicate, through the Venezuelan military.