Amid the ongoing battle for control in Venezuela, the U.S. military said it is preparing for Interim President Juan Guaido to assume power while socialist dictator Nicolas Maduro, who says he remains in full control of the military, lashed out at what he called Guaido’s “coup d’etat””
Many U.S. news organizations, including CNN, followed Maduro’s lead and labeled the opposition-led revolt an “attempted coup.”
“That was not only unfortunate, it was also incorrect and harmful,” Frida Ghitis, a former CNN producer and correspondent and frequent opinion contributor to CNN and The Washington Post, wrote for CNN.com. “Venezuela has already had a coup. Maduro and his cronies took power illegally. Maduro rigged elections, locked up opposition candidates and took control of the judiciary and every ‘independent’ government entity.”
It is only a matter of time before Guaido takes control in Venezuela, and the U.S. military is planning to be ready for any contingency when that happens, the commander of U.S. forces in Latin America told Congress on May 1.
“[T]here is going to be a day when the legitimate government takes over, and it’s going to come when we least expect it,” Adm. Craig Faller, head of U.S. Southern Command, told the House Armed Services Committee. “And it could be right now, so we are calling it ‘day now’ planning.”
In his first public address since Guaido called for a nationwide uprising, Maduro said “We have been facing various modes of aggression and coups d’etat like has never happened before in the history of Venezuela.” He blamed “the Venezuelan far right, the Colombian oligarchy from Bogota, and American imperialism” for Guaido’s moves to replace him.
Maduro insisted he remained in control of the military. He added: “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.”
Guaido said that “What the regime said, that they retain power over the armed forces, is false. 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.”
In her op-ed for CNN, Ghitis noted that the Maduro regime “has destroyed much of Venezuela. It didn’t just crush its democratic institutions; it also devastated its economy and much of its social order. By now the problem is not about politics. It’s about survival.”
“Yes, the Trump administration supports the opposition, and that makes a lot of President Donald Trump’s critics extend their suspicions to Guaido,” Ghitis wrote. “But it’s not only Washington backing the Venezuelan opposition. More than 50 countries recognize him as the country’s legitimate leader.”
The European Union, Canada, and most Latin American countries support Guaido, who is leader of the General Assembly, the country’s only democratically elected body.
“Above all, we should view Venezuela as a human tragedy. If you don’t know who to root for as you see reports of competing forces and hear accounts of rival narratives, root for the Venezuelan people,” Ghitis wrote.
“Rooting for the Venezuelan people means hoping that Maduro will step down peacefully, bringing to a close the most disastrous regime Venezuela has ever seen. It means recognizing that the opposition deserves to emerge victorious.”
Trump has said all options are on the table for Venezuela and Faller said the U.S. military is “on the balls of our feet.”
Much of the blame for the continuing crisis in Venezuela “squarely rests on Cuba, Russia, and to some extent China,” the admiral told the House Armed Services Committee.
The Pentagon has estimated as many as 20,000 Cuban forces are supporting the Maduro regime. An unknown number of Russian military personnel and mercenaries are also believed to be in Venezuela, with 100 special advisers flying in recently.
“It’s significant, and it’s contributing to the devastation,” said Faller.
Trump on May 1 threatened an embargo against Cuba. “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,” the president said in a pair of tweets.
Meanwhile, Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said he believes Russia has secretly installed nuclear missiles in Venezuela.
Diaz-Balart told Fox News if Maduro stays in power it could be “an open door for the Russians and for the Chinese and for others to increase their activity against our national security interest.”
Fox News host Tucker Carlson then asked: “Are you suggesting they are going to invade?”
“The closest we ever came to nuclear war was because the Russians put missiles, right, nuclear missiles in Cuba,” replied Diaz-Balart.
“Are you saying the Russians will put nuclear missiles in Venezuela?” Carlson asked.
“What I am suggesting is that they are already there,” answered Diaz-Balart. He did not offer any evidence to back up his claim.
Russia has a huge financial stake in Venezuela and is owed billions by Maduro’s government for tanks, missile defense systems and fighter jets purchased in recent years.
Those billions will almost certainly be lost if Guaido takes power. All future military weapons and equipment orders would likely go straight to the Pentagon.
Maduro has also forged close friendships with China and Iran, but many believe his days in power are still numbered.
Some have suggested the Kremlin should simply offer “its friend” political asylum.
“The long, cold Moscow winter is not ideal of course for Maduro, used to palm trees and a year-round average of 25C,” the paper Moskovsky Komsomolets stated. “But it’s still better than a warm prison cell in Caracas.”
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