The shocking scene broadcast live around the world of a Venezuelan military armored vehicle plowing into supporters of opposition leader Juan Guaido on Tuesday encapsulated the latest chapter in the collapse of Hugo Chavez’s socialist revolution.
Guaido, recognized by the United States and 53 other governments as the acting president, called for a military uprising Tuesday morning to oust the late Chavez’s hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro.
“The armed forces have taken the right decision,” Guaido said Tuesday. “With the support of the Venezuelan people and the backing of our constitution, they are on the right side of history.
“The moment is now.”
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton told reporters Tuesday at the White House that Guaido is not leading a “coup.”
“We recognize Juan Guaido as the interim president of Venezuela,” he said. “And just as it’s not a coup when the president of the United States gives an order to the Department of Defense, it’s not a coup for Juan Guiado to try and take command of the Venezuelan military.”
Bolton was asked what he thinks are the chances the uprising will succeed.
The national security adviser said he doesn’t believe the expressed support by military leaders for Maduro is genuine, contending it is motivated by “fear.”
“I think it’s fear of the 20 to 25,000 Cuban security forces in the country. I think it’s fear of the consequences if adhering to the constitutional mandate of the interim president fails,” Bolton said.
If the effort fails, he warned, the Venezuelan people “will sink into a dictatorship from which there are very few possible alternatives.”
“It’s a very delicate moment,” he said.
Bolton emphasized that President Trump wants to see a “peaceful transfer of power from Maduro to Guaido.”
“That possibility still exists if enough figures depart from the regime and support the opposition,” he said.
Russia propping up Maduro
In an interview later with the Fox News Channel’s Neil Cavuto, retired U.S. Army Gen. Jack Keane noted Bolton’s frustration with top Venezuelan leaders who apparently have backed down from a promise to support an uprising to oust Maduro.
After months of coordination, Keane said, the U.S. thought the opposition had the support of the Venezuelan defense minister, chief justice and the head of the National Guard.
Why did they back down?
Along with the more than 20,000 Cuban forces, Keane noted that in January, Russian President Vladimir Putin deployed 400 members of the private security firm Wagner Group to provide personal security to Maduro.
Last month, Moscow sent 100 advisers to assist the socialist leader.
“That means Putin has a direct link into what is happening every single day in Venezuela,” Keane said.
The Wagner Group previously had troops on Russia’s behalf in Syria, the Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
“If this regime does not fall,” he said of the Maduro government, “Russia comes out with leverage, and the fact is United States influence in the region would likely be diminished, as it was in Syria.”
Pence: ‘We are with you’
Earlier Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence expressed the support of the U.S. for Guaido’s bold move.
“To Juan Guaido, the National Assembly and all the freedom-loving people of Venezuela who are taking to the streets today in #operacionlibertad—Estamos con ustedes! We are with you! America will stand with you until freedom & democracy are restored. Vayan con dios!” Pence wrote on Twitter.
Reacting to the violent response by Venezuelan security forces, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., warned on Twitter that “military and security leaders must realize they are and will be held responsible for this.”
Guiado, the elected president of the National Assembly, took a public oath Jan. 23 to serve as acting president, contesting the legitimacy of the 2018 election.
President Trump has been briefed on the ongoing coup attempt, said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. fully supports the “Venezuelan people in their quest for freedom and democracy.”
“Democracy cannot be defeated,” he wrote on Twitter.
Bolton said via Twitter earlier Tuesday the Venezuelan military must decide whether to embrace democracy or “face more man-made suffering and isolation.”
“Venezuelans have made clear that the current path toward democracy is irreversible,” he wrote.
‘It’s now or never’
FoxNews.com reported troops loyal to Maduro sporadically fired tear gas on a crowd of a few thousand from inside the La Carlota air base in Caracas.
“It’s now or never,” said a soldier whose face was covered in the blue bandanna worn by the few dozen soldiers who stood alongside Guaidó and activist ally Leopoldo Lopez when they announced the move to take power Tuesday morning.
Maduro, meanwhile, said several regional military commanders have reaffirmed to him their loyalty to his socialist revolution.
Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said the military’s top ranks remained “loyal to the constitution.”
“A mediocre coup d’etat attempt has failed,” he said.
However, anti-Maduro protests are planned for Wednesday, FoxNews.com reported, including what Guaido has said will be “the largest march in Venezuela’s history.”
Guaido said it will be part of the “definitive phase” of his effort to take office and hold new elections.
Socialist party chief Diosdado Cabello called on Maduro supporters to gather at the presidential palace.
“We’re going to Miraflores palace to defend the revolution, to defend Nicolas and to defend the legacy of Hugo Chavez,” Cabello told state TV.