The push to depose Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro reached a crescendo Tuesday in Caracas, the nation’s capital, as opposition leader and acting President Juan Guaidó claimed the support of the military and pleaded with people to take part in the final stages of “Operation Freedom,” a campaign to topple the government.
Guaidó, 35, released a video early in the morning that showed him standing outside the La Carlota airbase in Caracas, surrounded by armed men accoutered in military garb. He was joined by Leopold Lopez, a former mayor who was arrested and sentenced to jail for anti-government activities in 2014. Lopez was released to house arrest
in 2017, and claimed Tuesday he was freed by members of the military.
Guaidó marched away from the air base later in the morning and addressed a crowd of supporters in a park known as Plaza Altamira. According to a report by Bloomberg, protestors, battered by tear gas and plastic pellets, pushed through a barrier surrounding the airbase around noon and threw
rocks and Molotov cocktails at armored vehicles.
As the opposition clashed periodically throughout the morning with government forces, Maduro and Guaidó struggled to control the narrative, with both claiming the support of the military.
Vladimir Padrino, the Defense Minister, said
in a tweet that the military backed Maduro, and remarked he had seen no signs of insurrection at bases around the country.
Maduro took to Twitter to say
the military expressed their total loyalty to the people and the Constitution.
Guaidó told supporters that he would soon release a list of military commanders supporting the coup.
Maduro, who succeeded Venezuelan revolutionary Hugo Chavez in 2013, began his second term as president last spring in an election government critics derided
as rigged and unfair. Some political parties and candidates were barred
from running against Maduro, who, despite presiding over a near-collapse of the Venezuelan economy, beat his closest opponent by 40 points.
Skyrocketing inflation and a shortage of food and medicine contributed to an exodus
of over 3 million people from Venezuela over the last four years, according to the U.N.
Guaidó challenged Maduro’s claim to the presidency shortly after his inauguration in January, and received the backing of 54 countries around the world, including the United States and a majority in Latin America. He traveled to bordering countries in March to drum up support for ousting Maduro, and returned to Venezuela to find that the pro-Maduro Constituent Assembly had stripped him
of parliamentary immunity, potentially paving the way for his arrest.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared
support for Guaidó this morning.