Tensions escalated in Venezuela Tuesday after the country’s U.S.-backed opposition leader and National Assembly President Juan Guaidó called for the military to topple the leftist government of Nicolás Maduro.
Early in the morning, Guaidó — standing alongside a group of soldiers and previously jailed fellow opposition leader Leopoldo López — called on the Venezuelan armed forces to stage an uprising and carry out what he dubbed “Operación Libertad,” or operation freedom.
Top U.S. officials, including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, were quick to vouch their support for Guaidó’s bid to oust Maduro.
Venezuela’s socialist government, meanwhile, called the move by the opposition leader a “coup” sponsored by the U.S., with one of its most highest-ranking officials and speaker of the pro-Maduro legislature, Diosdado Cabello, urging supporters to come out and defend the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas.
Clashes in the capital and other parts of the country ensued between civilians and soldiers supportive of Guaidó and Maduro’s security forces and pro-government militias, known as “colectivos.”
The bold action by the opposition could allow the international community and people of Venezuela to gauge whether Guaidó can accomplish what has so far proved elusive: mustering enough support among the nation’s sprawling military structure to force Maduro to relinquish power.
Follow live updates below:
Pompeo: Maduro was “ready to leave” Venezuela
Pompeo said Maduro prepared to flee Venezuela Tuesday morning, but backed off the move because of advise from the Russia government.
“He had an airplane on the tarmac. He was ready to leave this morning, as we understand it. And the Russians indicated he should stay,” Pompeo said during an appearance on CNN late Tuesday afternoon
“He was headed for Havana,” the secretary of state added, referring to the Cuban capital.
Pressed for evidence, Pompeo said his claim was based on “conversations.”
Doctors treat 50 injured in skirmishes
The director of a medical center in Venezuela’s capital said doctors are treating 50 patients injured during street skirmishes.
Thirty of the injured were shot with rubber bullets, according to Salud Chacao director Maggia Santi.Another 16 sustained bodily trauma, while three reported difficulty breathing and one was shot with a firearm.
She said doctors have sufficient supplies to treat the injured, in part due to recent donations by organizations including the Red Cross.
Brazil sees point of no return in Venezuela
Brazil’s vice president said the situation in Venezuela has reached a point of no return. Former Gen. Hamilton Mourão said Tuesday that either opposition leaders Guaidó and Leopoldo López would “be prisoners” or Maduro “would be leaving.”
“There is no other way out of this,” Mourão said.
Brazil borders Venezuela to the south and recognizes Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president.
Bolton: “All options are on the table”
President Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton said Tuesday that Mr. Trump wants to see a peaceful transfer of power in Venezuela — a possibility he said “still exists.”
He also said “all options are on the table.”
Speaking to reporters at the White House Tuesday afternoon, Bolton said what is happening in Venezuela “is clearly not a coup.”
“We recognize Juan Guaido as the legitimate interim president of Venezuela, and just as it’s not a coup when the President of the United States gives an order to the Department of Defense, it’s not a coup for Juan Guaido to try and take command of the Venezuelan military,” he said.
Bolton also said the U.S. believes Cuba has played “a very significant role in propping Maduro up today, possibly with help from the Russians. That’s the speculation, certainly in Caracas.”
“The sooner Maduro is gone, the sooner is the possibility of justice and real economic growth for the Venezuelan people,” he said.
On Tuesday, Mr. Trump tweeted, “The United States stands with the People of Venezuela and their Freedom!”
UN chief urges “maximum restraint”
The U.N. says Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is urging all sides in Venezuela to exercise “maximum restraint,” avoid any violence and take immediate steps to restore calm. Guterres’ “message publicly and privately has been to push for dialogue in order to resolve this peacefully,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Tuesday.
Dujarric said the U.N. is “reaching out to both sides.” He noted that Guterres met Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza last week and met Monday with the Lima group of countries supporting Guaidó. Dujarric also said the U.N. is taking measures to ensure the safety of its staff in the country.
Street clashes erupt
Anti-government demonstrators clashed with troops loyal to Maduro at an air base in Caracas, the country’s capital, hours after Guaidó’s attempt to lead a military uprising.
Video showed unrest, including clashes, as well as an armored military vehicle ramming into pro-Guaidó protesters in the city.
Internet restrictions reported in Venezuela
Venezuela’s state run internet provider has been restricting access to YouTube and Google services following the opposition leader’s call for the military to revolt against Maduro, a group that monitors internet censorship said.
The non-governmental NetBlocks group said access to the services remains intermittently available since the restrictions don’t appear to be completely effective. It said Twitter, Facebook and several other services were briefly restricted earlier, although core internet connectivity remains unaffected.
The group said past incidents of network filtering in Venezuela have lasted from 12 minutes to over 20 hours.
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Defense minister rejects attempt by “subversive movement”
The events appear not to have triggered a broader military revolt. Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino on Twitter rejected what he called an attempt by a “subversive movement” to generate “panic and terror.”
The ruling socialist party chief, Diosdado Cabello, said most of Caracas was calm and called on government supporters to amass at the presidential palace to defend Maduro from what he said was a U.S.-backed coup attempt. About a dozen government supporters, some of them brandishing firearms, gathered at the presidential palace, answered the call.
“It’s time to defend the revolution with arms,” Valentin Santana, head of a militant group, said in a video posted on social media as he brandished an automatic rifle.
Meanwhile, Guaidó said he would release a list of top commanders supporting the uprising in the coming hours.
Putin discusses uprising with his top security body
Russian President Vladimir Putin has discussed the ongoing uprising in Venezuela with his top security body. Putin raised the current developments in Venezuela during his scheduled meeting with the Security Council, Russian news agencies quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.
Peskov said that the meeting “paid significant attention to the news reports about a coup attempt in that country.” He did not elaborate further.
Pence: “We are with you!”
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence tweeted “We are with you!” Tuesday to the Venezuelans taking to the streets after Guaidó’s call for an uprising.
“America will stand with you until freedom & democracy are restored,” he added.
The U.S. and dozens of other countries have recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s rightful leader, arguing that Maduro’s re-election was invalid.
The White House later said it is “watching and waiting” on the situation in Venezuela and hoping the result is democracy.
It was unclear how much advance knowledge the Trump administration had of Guaido’s plans for Tuesday, but President Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton was first to tweet his support.
“The United States stands with the people of Venezuela,” Bolton tweeted.