Venezuela’s powerful military on Thursday threw its weight behind Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as US-backed Venezuelan National Assembly President Juan Guaido pressed a direct challenge to his authority and the fate of the crisis-wracked country hung in the balance.
As the death toll from days of street protests jumped to 26, a defiant Maduro announced the closure of Venezuela’s embassy and consulates in the US, one day after US President Donald Trump’s administration declared his regime “illegitimate.”
The oil-rich but economically devastated country was plunged into uncertainty on Wednesday when 35-year-old Guaido proclaimed himself “acting president” — earning swift endorsement from Washington and a dozen regional powers including Brazil, Argentina and Colombia.
Maduro’s re-election last year was contested by the opposition and criticized internationally — but the socialist leader has until now retained the loyalty of the powerful military, whose response was being keenly watched.
Flanked by military top brass, Venezuelan Minister of Defense General Vladimir Padrino declared 56-year-old Maduro “the legitimate president” and vowed to defend his authority against an attempted “coup d’etat.”
Following Padrino’s lead, eight generals reiterated their “absolute loyalty and subordination” to Maduro in messages carried on state TV.
The Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal of Justice — made up of regime loyalists — doubled down by reaffirming its allegiance to Maduro’s “legitimate authority.”
“A coup is brewing in Venezuela with the consent of foreign governments,” court President Maikel Moreno said.
In a Skype interview with Univision, Guaido said that he did not rule out including Maduro in an amnesty he is offering for military and civilian officials who lead a transition in Venezuela.
However, such an option would have to be evaluated, because Maduro is responsible for the death of protesters, he added.
In Washington, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo kept up the pressure on the leftist leader, as the US called for an emergency UN Security Council meeting on the crisis.
Outside South America, the US has been joined by Canada and Britain in recognizing Guaido as Venezuela’s interim leader, while France has also rejected Maduro’s legitimacy.
Germany yesterday said that it was ready to recognize Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president unless new elections are held.
However, Russia and China and have thrown their weight behind Maduro.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called Maduro to express his support, saying that the “crisis has been provoked from the outside.”
China, Venezuela’s main creditor, said that it is opposed to “interference in Venezuelan affairs by external forces.”
Maduro has retained the support of Mexico, Cuba and Bolivia, all led by leftist governments.
Leading figures worldwide have appealed for calm to avoid a repeat of the bloodshed — as the Caracas-based Social Conflict Observatory said that 26 people had been killed since protests began four days ago.
Additional reporting by AFP
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