Events are unfolding rapidly in Venezuela after opposition leader Juan Guaidó called for “the final phase” of his coup attempt.
In a video posted on Twitter, Guaidó was joined by Popular Will party leader Leopoldo López, who members of the military reportedly released from house arrest this morning. López was jailed in 2014 in relation to violent “guarimba” riots the same year. He was also allegedly involved in the 2002 coup attempt against former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez.
Plotting with military defectors
After his release, López and Guaidó met near La Carlota military base in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. A small group of soldiers joined them. Guaidó claimed:
At this moment, I am meeting with the main military units of our armed forces, initiating the final phase of Operation Freedom.
Guaidó is calling for additional military defections, and asking Venezuelan people to take to the streets to support efforts to oust the democratically elected government.
The coup leaders, as well as a small military unit, temporarily stationed themselves on a bridge near La Carlota military base:
Automatic arms were reportedly set up overlooking the bridge:
And there were reports of explosions and tear gas on the bridge:
It is difficult to tell how many military defections Guaidó has achieved – though current estimates are around 1,000. Democratically elected president Nicolás Maduro, meanwhile, has insisted that all the country’s commanders remain loyal to the government.
It also seems that neither Guaidó nor López actually entered La Carlota military base, as some outlets had claimed; they may have been on or near the bridge the whole time:
In fact, one Venezuelan journalist has claimed that the tear gas was fired at Guaidó’s forces from inside the Venezuelan military base.
Guaidó has now reportedly left the bridge, “as he seeks support” in a nearby park. According to one reporter on the ground, this “may be a troubling sign for the brewing uprising that the opposition is abandoning their push to breach the airbase so quickly”.
Former Venezuelan government adviser Eva Golinger has reported that “some major military leaders – former Chavez loyalists – may have joined the coup”. She says this is a “dangerous moment for Venezuela”.
The leader of the Venezuelan armed forces (FANB), Vladimir Padrino, has attested that military units are reporting “normalcy in their barracks and military bases”:
A pro-government heavyweight and former right-hand man of Hugo Chávez, Diosdado Cabello, has called on pro-government forces to descend on Miraflores, the presidential palace, saying “They’ll never get to Miraflores”. There are now reports of hundreds of people protesting there:
Away from the centres of political action, meanwhile, many people are reporting that the streets of Caracas are otherwise calm.
Bolivian president Evo Morales, an ally of Venezuela’s government, tweeted:
We strongly condemn the attempted coup d’état in Venezuela, waged by the right on behalf of foreign interests.
Coup-supporting US senator Marco Rubio, meanwhile, echoed opposition propaganda:
Now is the moment to take to the streets in support of your legitimate constitutional government.
Do not allow this moment to slip away. It may not come again
He also claimed that the Venezuelan government has targeted social media, though accounts in Venezuela appear to continue unaffected.
The president of the European Parliament also pledged his support for the coup. And right-wing Colombian president Iván Duque wrote:
We call on the military and the people of Venezuela to unite on the right side of history, rejecting the dictatorship and usurpation of Maduro.
Venezuelan foreign minister Jorge Arreaza, meanwhile, has denounced Colombia for supporting the coup and interfering once again in Venezuela politics.
Like past coup attempts, this entire operation depends on the amount of military defections Guaidó can achieve. At present, most reports suggest that the Venezuelan military is generally remaining loyal to the government. But a civil war cannot be ruled out.
It’s also possible that the opposition are trying to invite a violent reaction from the Venezuelan government, which could then be presented on the international stage as justification to intervene. Looking at the situation realistically: no evidence has thus far suggested that Guaidó could carry out a successful military coup. His continual attempts might suggest that he’s attempting to provoke a reaction.
The next few hours will be crucial for Venezuela.
Featured image via Flickr/White House