Washington: The United States cheered on a military uprising against President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday as it revealed that it knew that three senior leaders were plotting to oust the leftist leader.
President Donald Trump tweeted that the United States “stands with the People of Venezuela and their Freedom!” as his administration threw full support behind a revolt that Maduro denounced as a coup attempt.
Amid signs that Maduro remained in charge, Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, publicly named three officials who, he said, the Venezuelan opposition knew had “committed to support ousting Maduro.”
“And it is time for them now, if the Cubans will let them do it, to fulfill their commitments and it is time for the rest of the military to show what their own families believe ought to happen - and that is Maduro needs to go,” Bolton told reporters at the White House.
Bolton named the trio as Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino, Supreme Court Chief Justice Maikel Moreno and presidential guard commander Ivan Hernandez Dala - all previously seen as Maduro loyalists.
“This has been building for a long time. If this effort fails they will sink into a dictatorship from which they’re very few possible alternatives. It is a very delicate moment,” he said.
Bolton blamed their apparent failure on Cuba, Maduro’s ally, which he said had up to 25,000 troops in Venezuela.
Trump later tweeted a threat to impose a “full and complete embargo” on Cuba, which is already heavily sanctioned by the United States, unless it ends military support in Venezuela.
Going public with plot
Elliott Abrams, the US special representative on Venezuela, said that three senior leaders had been making plans “for the last month or two,” although he said the United States was not directly involved.
“They negotiated for a long time about the means of restoring democracy,” Abrams told reporters at the State Department.
“But it seems as of today they are not going forward,” he said, while adding that the situation remained fluid.
Abrams said the United States had not known the exact date of Tuesday’s revolt, in which a group of soldiers urged the rest of the military and public to join in toppling Maduro, triggering clashes in which armored vehicles rammed stone-hurling protesters.
But Abrams indicated that he presumed the uprising would take place Wednesday to coincide with mass protests called by Juan Guaido, the opposition leader recognized as president by Washington and most Latin American and European powers.
It remained unclear why the United States would publicly identify leaders who stand to face severe repercussions from Maduro.
Asked about the risks, Abrams said, “I don’t think they are in danger, for one thing, if constitutional order is restored to Venezuela.”
The United States and its allies argue that the National Assembly, headed by Guaido’s opposition, is the only legitimate institution in Venezuela.
Maduro’s re-election last year was widely criticized for irregularities. He presides over a crumbling economy, with inflation forecast this year to reach a mind-boggling 10 million percent and millions of Venezuelans having fled due to shortages of basic goods.
Trump has cast Venezuela as part of a battle to fight leftists across the Americas, but Maduro retains crucial support from Russia and China.
Maduro claims ‘total loyalty’
In his first and only comment so far on the crisis, Maduro said in a tweet he had been assured by the top military commanders of their “total loyalty.”
He did not appear publicly, a sign for Abrams that he was unsure of his support level.
Samuel Moncada, Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nations, blamed the insurrection on a “group of deputies from the National Assembly and a small group of low-ranked military personnel.”
“The constitutional government of President Nicolas Maduro,” he told reporters, “has defeated a new attempt by foreign powers to provoke confusion and disorder in the national territory.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hailed “Operacion Libertad,” or “Operation Liberty,” and demanded that Venezuela ensure the safety of Guaido.
“The Venezuelan people are demanding change, a peaceful democratic transition, and return to prosperity. It’s time for the illegitimate regime to step aside,” Pompeo tweeted.