Venezuela’s socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro denied that he had lost control of the military and vowed to use all his power to crush legitimate President Juan Guaidó in his first public address since the latter called for a nationwide uprising on Tuesday.
“We have been facing various modes of aggression and coups d’etat like has never happened before in the history of Venezuela,” Maduro declared, in a speech flanked by his top military commanders. He blamed “the Venezuelan far right, the Colombian oligarchy from Bogotá, and American imperialism” for Guaidó’s moves to finally replace him.
— Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) May 1, 2019
Guaidó became interim president of Venezuela in January after Maduro claimed the position despite not being democratically elected. Maduro has rejected the legislature’s appointment of Guaidó, refused to leave the presidential palace, and has largely maintained control of the military through his senior henchmen, making it impossible for Guaidó to exercise his power as commander in chief.
Guaidó announced on Tuesday that he had acquired control of a critical mass of the military, but he needed civilians to support the anti-Maduro troops against their superiors. Maduro rejected the call as a “coup” despite his lack of legitimacy in office.
“Today is a good day to contrast the Venezuela of peace, of tranquility, of prosperity, of unity that all Venezuelans aspire to with the Venezuela of violence, of violating political rights, of the Constitution, the Venezuela of shooting firearms, of violence [again], the Venezuela submitted to the Colombian oligarchy and the gringo empire,” Maduro railed.
The dictator then denied that the legitimate president had successfully taken over the La Carlota airbase where he delivered his address early Tuesday and insisted that he maintained control of the military, claiming that the soldiers shown in footage on the ground in Caracas urging Maduro to leave were “deceived” into congregating with protesters and that they soon realized their error and turned on the crowd. He then suggested, however, that the opposition had taken control of military firearms and vehicles and used them to cause a “tragedy” on Caracas’ main highway. Soldiers loyal to Maduro were caught on camera Tuesday running over protesters with an armored vehicle, which Maduro did not address.
Maduro also did not explain where the photos, taken by several major news agencies and distributed worldwide, of protesters rallying at La Carlota Tuesday came from if the reports that they had done so were false.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) April 30, 2019
The few soldiers he admitted had turned on him would face severe punishment, Maduro vowed.
“I have spoken to the attorney general. I have chosen three prosecutors who will interrogate all people involved and they will launch criminal prosecutions for the serious crimes that have been committed against the constitution, the rule of law and the right to peace,” Maduro said. “This will not go unpunished.”
In a video published late Tuesday, Guaidó urged Venezuelans not to let Maduro discourage them.
Mañana continuamos con la ejecución de la #OperaciónLibertad. Iniciamos la fase final y estaremos de forma sostenida en las calles hasta lograr el cese de la usurpación.
— Juan Guaidó (@jguaido) May 1, 2019
“What the regime said, that they retain power over the armed forces, is false,” Guaidó said. “Maduro does not have the backing or the respect of the armed forces, much less the Venezuelan people, because he doesn’t protect anyone, because he doesn’t solve problems, he doesn’t offer solutions.”
Guaidó urged Venezuelans to remain on the streets protesting “to recover our dignity, to rescue our people, our families.” He said the current protest would last until Maduro left the presidential palace for good.
Speaking to the anti-socialist newspaper El Nacional on Tuesday, several protesters who heeded Guaidó’s call said they were prepared to continue on the streets indefinitely.
“I am here for freedom. I want a better Venezuela, where I can go to a market and have a worthy salary to buy the products I want,” Patricia Petit, a mother who had seen her daughter flee the country, told El Nacional.
Estrella López, the sister of a political prisoner, told the newspaper she would stay on the street “all the time necessary because Maduro needs to leave here. This has to end.”