Venezuelan defence minister says coup attempt under way
Caracas : Venezuela's defence minister on Thursday, a day after the speaker of the opposition-led unicameral legislature proclaimed himself acting head of state, said that an attempted coup was under way.
"I warn the Venezuelan people that a coup is being carried out against our democracy's institutionality, against our constitution, against President Nicolas Maduro, the legitimate president," Vladimir Padrino told reporters in the company of other senior military officials.
Padrino read a statement on behalf of Venezuela's armed forces in which he expressed his loyalty to the leftist Maduro as head of state and said he "will never accept an imposed president," reports Efe.
The defence minister said "unhinged elements" among Venezuela's opposition, backed by outside forces, were behind the bid to create a de facto government, which he vowed "will not be victorious."
"It's an extremely serious matter and infringes upon the rule of law, against the peace of all Venezuelans," Padrino said.
The armed forces' support for Maduro is "unfailing and unyielding," said Padrino, who thanked those foreign governments, including Mexico, that have called for resolving Venezuela's political crisis through dialogue.
The minister also slammed the "meddling actions" of numerous countries, most notably the United States, that have recognized the newly appointed National Assembly head, Juan Guaido, as Venezuela's interim president.
Referring to anti-government protests that erupted this week and have left around 16 dead, according to the Washington-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (though Venezuela's government has not confirmed that figure), Padrino said soldiers will guarantee law and order and prevent clashes among Venezuelans.
Padrino said the US government, in alliance with its allies in Latin America and some officials of multi-lateral organisations, are following the "well-worn script of overthrowing those progressive projects that don't fit their imperialist ambitions."
Venezuela, an oil-rich country that has seen millions flee in recent years due to severe food and medicine shortages and hyperinflation, has been the victim of "unprecedented hybrid warfare," the defence minister said.
That has included "a financial-economic blockade, sabotage, misinformation and fake news, among other techniques aimed at generating ungovernability and justifying a military intervention," the defence minister said.
In a major action against Venezuela's leftist government in 2017, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order barring US institutions from involvement in any new debt issued by the Venezuelan government or that nation's state oil company, PDVSA.
That move came after Maduro's administration had pushed through with plans for a controversial National Constituent Assembly, a plenipotentiary body that took over the functions of the National Assembly, the only institution in the opposition's control.
Ties between Caracas and Washington deteriorated during the 1999-2013 presidency of Maduro's predecessor and political mentor, the late Hugo Chavez, a vehement critic of US foreign policy.
Chavez was removed from office for 48 hours in April 2002 in a putsch engineered by military brass, opposition politicians and leaders of the business community.
A former paratrooper and avowed socialist, Chavez was restored to power by a combination of mass street protests and the unwillingness of some military commanders to countenance the removal of an elected president.
US-Venezuelan ties, which had been at the level of charge d'affaires since late 2010, deteriorated further after Trump formally recognised Guaido as the South American country's interim president on Wednesday.
Maduro responded by announcing his administration's decision to sever diplomatic and political relations with the US and ordering American diplomatic personnel to leave the country within 72 hours.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, however, said late Wednesday that the American diplomatic staff would not leave Venezuela and called on that nation's armed forces to protect them.