US threatens “full and complete embargo” on Cuba if it does not stop immediately military operations in Venezuela

At 5:57 yesterday afternoon, The WASHINGTON Post reported dozens wounded in clashes in Venezuela. According to the article, “President Trump accused Cuba of conducting military operations in Venezuela and threatened a ‘full and complete embargo’ on Cuba if it did not ‘immediately’ stop.”

Venezuela braces for more clashes as Guaidó and Maduro call for demonstrations

Mary Beth Sheridan May 1 at 12:15 PM

More turmoil is expected in Venezuela a day after opposition leader Juan Guaidó launched a risky effort to enlist the military in toppling President Nicolás Maduro. Here is what we know so far:

  • Guaidó called for a massive anti-government demonstration on Wednesday as he attempted to regain momentum after a high-stakes, largely unsuccessful effort to rally the military to his side.

  • Maduro appeared triumphant on Wednesday, tweeting that his opponents, including the United States, “will fail” in their efforts to “take our victories from us.” He has announced pro-government demonstrations on Wednesday.

  • U.S. officials said they had expected Maduro to flee for Cuba on Tuesday but that Russia persuaded him not to. The Russian government dismissed the allegations as fake news. U.S. officials also said key Venezuelan officials, including the defense minister, had told the opposition they would support Maduro’s removal. They haven’t done so.

  • President Trump accused Cuba of conducting military operations in Venezuela and threatened a “full and complete embargo” on the communist-ruled country if it did not “immediately” stop.

CARACAS, Venezuela — Opposition leader Juan Guaidó called on Venezuelans to join a massive anti-government demonstration on Wednesday as he tried to regain momentum the day after a largely unsuccessful effort to rally the military and oust the country’s authoritarian government.

“Let’s carry on with more energy than ever, Venezuela,” he tweeted.

Guaidó and the Trump administration had hoped that this week would mark a turning point in the three-month-long effort to remove leftist President Nicolás Maduro. Guaidó launched what he called the “final phase” of the operation at dawn Tuesday with a surprise appearance with troops outside an air base in Caracas, where he claimed the support of key military units, and called on others to join.

But while the head of Venezuela’s domestic intelligence agency, Maj. Gen. Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera, broke with Maduro, military leaders stayed loyal to him. Guaidó’s appeal appeared to draw only a small number of soldiers to his side.

Now Guaidó faces a heightened risk of arrest, as well as the possible withering of the most potent anti-government movement to emerge since Maduro took office in 2013. Guaidó, who declared himself president in January, has been recognized as interim president by more than 50 countries, including the United States.

A day of violence and unrest in Venezuela ends with uncertainty

Dozens of protesters were injured in clashes as Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaidó announced the “final phase” against President Maduro. (Jason Aldag/The Washington Post)

Carlos Romero, a Venezuelan political analyst, said it was clear that Guaidó did not achieve his objective. “But we can’t condemn the opposition yet,” he said Wednesday. “This can be used to intensify the fight, as it was demonstrated that Maduro doesn’t have complete backing from the armed forces.”

Maduro denounced Tuesday’s events as a failed coup. On Wednesday morning, his security forces fired tear gas at demonstrators in at least two locations in Caracas, according to accounts on Twitter. One video showed National Guardsmen in body armor blocking protesters from meeting at a plaza in the capital’s El Paraiso neighborhood.

In Washington, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., said the situation involving Guaidó and Maduro appeared unclear. The Pentagon is trying to collect intelligence and “make sure we have good visibility on what is happening down in Venezuela and also be prepared to support the president should he require more from the U.S. military,” he testified, without providing details.

Tuesday’s events appeared to be a setback for U.S. foreign policy. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said U.S. officials had expected the Venezuelan president to flee the country but that Russia had prevailed on him to stay.

Moscow showed no sign Wednesday of backing down in the crisis and accused the United States of supporting what it described as a coup attempt in Venezuela. In a phone call with Pompeo, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Washington’s “interference” constituted “a most grave violation of international law.”

“It was indicated that continuing these aggressive steps would be fraught with the most serious consequences,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement describing the phone call. “Only the Venezuelan people have the right to determine their own fate, which is why a dialogue is necessary between all the political forces of the whole country, as its government has long been calling for.”

Maduro “had an airplane on the tarmac,” Pompeo told CNN on Tuesday evening. “He was ready to leave this morning, as we understand it, and the Russians indicated he should stay” rather than go to Cuba, Pompeo said.

The U.S. government says that Russia and Cuba, staunch allies of Maduro’s, have essentially kept him in power as the economy of this oil-rich country collapses. But the Venezuelan opposition has consistently underestimated Maduro’s ability to maintain territorial control.

“They’re not known for deep, multi-layer planning,” said a former senior U.S. official who has been involved in Venezuela policy. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he continues to consult on Latin American affairs.

Maduro, as well as the Russian government, dismissed Pompeo’s claim.

“Washington tried its best to demoralize the Venezuelan army and now used fakes as a part of information war,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told CNN.

National security adviser John Bolton said Tuesday that three senior officials — including the defense minister — had told the opposition they would back Maduro’s ouster. But they have not broken with him.

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President Trump, who has taken a strong personal interest in Venezuela, tweeted late Tuesday that the U.S. government would put a “full and complete embargo” on Cuba if its troops did not immediately end their aid to the Venezuelan government. Cuban soldiers are believed to assist Venezuelan intelligence and the armed forces.

Venezuelans heading to work on Wednesday differed on whether the tepid response to Guaidó’s call Tuesday would dampen support for the opposition.

“If Guaidó is doing it this way, however crazy it may seem, it is because there is a plan behind it. And we have to support it,” said Neidy Graterol, 31, a secretary, as she exited a Caracas metro station. “He is the only one who has achieved so much in such a short time.”

She said the government was trying to intimidate opposition supporters, with police asking travelers on the metro on Wednesday “where they were going and why.”

Nonetheless, she said, she planned to join the latest anti-government demonstration.

Derwin Castro, a 42-year-old security guard, was considerably more frustrated. He said he initially was excited by Guaidó’s announcement early Tuesday that he was working with the military to remove Maduro from power.

“I said to myself, ‘Finally the moment has arrived.’ But later in the afternoon, when I realized they didn’t have all the tanks they talked about, nor the military support, I was disappointed.”

Guaidó’s call for an uprising sparked clashes around the country Tuesday between anti-government demonstrators and security forces. A 25-year-old man died, and dozens of people were injured by rubber bullets, tear gas and live ammunition in clashes, according to local observers and hospital officials. At least 119 people were detained, according to Foro Penal, an organization that tracks political detentions.

Tuesday marked “a pretty decisive conjuncture,” said David Smilde, a Venezuela expert who teaches at Tulane University. If Guaidó winds up being detained, he said, “then all eyes will be on the United States and the international community,” which will have to decide how to respond.

Guaidó, the leader of the National Assembly, invoked the Venezuelan constitution to claim the presidency in January after Maduro declared victory in an election widely viewed as fraudulent.

Both Guaidó and Maduro hoped to prove the strength of their support with large demonstrations on May 1, internationally celebrated as Workers’ Day.

Maduro: ‘Coup d’etat’ will ‘not go unpunished’

In an April 30 televised address, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro denied that opposition protesters had taken over the La Carlota military base. (Associated Press)

On Wednesday morning, Maduro tweeted that he was ready to “confront the empire and its cronies who think they can take our victories from us; they will fail.”

In a televised address the previous night, Maduro mentioned Guaidó’s name before announcing that prosecutors would investigate “great crimes against the constitution.” He claimed that most of those military personnel who rallied to the opposition’s side on Tuesday quickly returned to their posts.

[‘We keep fighting’: Stories of resilience from across Venezuela]

Yet he also announced a replacement for Figuera, chief of the feared intelligence police known as the SEBIN, a move that suggested cracks in his inner circle.

Earlier Tuesday, Figuera circulated an open letter in which he lamented Venezuela’s sharp decline, saying “it would be irresponsible to blame” only the United States for this.

The authenticity of the letter was confirmed by a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information. Figuera appeared to be in hiding, the official said.

The oil-rich nation, once South America’s wealthiest, has been paralyzed by the political stalemate and a growing humanitarian crisis. Hyperinflation, rising crime, power outages, and shortages of medical supplies, food and water have reduced life for many to a daily struggle to survive. Millions have fled the country.

Bolton said Tuesday that three key officials — Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino, Supreme Court chief judge Maikel Moreno and presidential guard commander Ivan Rafael Hernandez Dala — had told the opposition they would support the removal of Maduro. Bolton called on the trio to “make good on their commitment.”

Faiola reported from Panama City. Sheridan reported from Mexico City. Missy Ryan, Karen DeYoung and Carol Morello in Washington and Anton Troianovski in Moscow contributed to this report.