Juan Guaidó Says Venezuelan Opposition Had Secret Talks With Military
Juan Guaidó, the Venezuelan opposition leader, wrote in an opinion article published Wednesday evening that his opposition coalition had met with members of the powerful armed forces to galvanize support for a change in government.
Mr. Guaidó, the head of the country’s National Assembly, last week declared himself interim president in a direct challenge to Nicolás Maduro, who has held on to power despite a widely discredited election and an economic and humanitarian disaster precipitated by his government’s mismanagement.
In the days since, more than two dozen countries, including the United States and many Latin American nations, have thrown their support behind Mr. Guaidó. On Thursday, the European Parliament recognized him as the country’s legitimate leader. The American government has imposed sanctions intended to force out Mr. Maduro, but he has the support of some other nations, including Russia and China.
Ultimately, though, the fate of the two leaders may be decided by Venezuela’s military, which plays an outsize role in the country’s politics as a power broker.
“We have had clandestine meetings with members of the armed forces and the security forces,” he wrote. “We have offered amnesty to all those who are found not guilty of crimes against humanity.”
Although Mr. Guaidó’s offer of amnesty and outreach to the military had been reported previously, it was the first time he had publicly acknowledged the clandestine meetings. His comments came days before a planned protest on Saturday, the latest in a series of public displays of outrage at Mr. Maduro.
On Thursday, while Mr. Guaidó was speaking to a crowd at the Central University of Venezuela, members of the Special Actions Force, or FAES, a national police unit known for being Mr. Maduro’s enforcers, went to his home, he said.
“They tried to intimidate me,” he said, speaking from his home after the incident. “They came here asking for my wife. They are the ones who want to cross the red line.”
With his 20 month old daughter in his arms, Mr. Guaidó explained that people in white vans had approached his home. According to Mr. Guaidó, the neighbors stood in front of the building where he lives.
“We have nothing to fear, we are doing the right thing,” he said.
Mr. Maduro, in a Thursday tweet, worked to cultivate the image of a military united behind him with a video in which he stood in front of dozens of uniformed members of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces of Venezuela, or FANB.
“The coup d’état orchestrated by imperialism has served to cultivate consciousness, strengthen leadership and deepen the preparation of our #FANB, to defend sovereignty and the constitution. It’s time for loyalty and victory!” he wrote.
Last week, the leader of Venezuela’s armed forces publicly declared loyalty to Mr. Maduro and said the opposition’s effort to replace him amounted to an attempted coup. But factions of defected officers have said they are plotting returns from elsewhere in the region to support Mr. Guaidó.
A member of the opposition said that the talks had been with midlevel military officers and had taken place in recent weeks. It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Guaidó was present.
The purpose was to explain the National Assembly’s amnesty guarantees, the opposition member said, adding that the officers expressed concern about the Trump administration’s past threats of military intervention in Venezuela and said that the armed forces would be outgunned in any fight.
The opposition’s courting of military officers carries potential dangers. If it leads to a schism in the armed forces, that could be disastrous for the country, said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington policy forum.
“The worst option is a military coup or a sharp split in the military which could lead to breakdown and wide civil strife,” he said.
He said that Mr. Guaidó and others would need to overcome years of distrust between the military and the political opposition — and that the military would need to be convinced that the offer of amnesty would not later be withdrawn.
“You have to get some clear protections and guarantees, not just for senior officials but for many others who have committed massive human rights violations,” he said. “That’s very, very tough.”
Mr. Guaidó has denounced the security services loyal to Mr. Maduro as they have cracked down on journalists covering the protests and political unrest in the country.
Two French journalists were detained and two Chilean journalists were deported on Wednesday, according to the national press union. Two Venezuelan journalists were detained and later released, and three reporters and a driver working for the state-run Spanish news agency EFE were also arrested and placed in deportation proceedings.
“They will not be able to prevent the world from knowing what is happening in Venezuela,” Mr. Guaidó wrote in a series of tweets on Wednesday night. “Very soon in Venezuela the full freedom of expression and information will reign.”