Venezuela: Another coup fails

May 3, 2019

“Interim President” Juan Guaido and right-wing opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez spearheaded an unsuccessful coup attempt in Caracas on April 30.

The thwarted uprising started in the early morning hours when renegade military and intelligence officers reportedly released Lopez from house arrest. Lopez then joined Guaido and a handful of soldiers on the Altamira overpass in east Caracas, outside the Francisco de Miranda airbase, known as La Carlota.

Lopez and Guaido released videos on social media, calling on the armed forces to back their efforts and urging supporters to take to the streets, in what they termed as the “final phase” of the so-called “Operation Freedom.” Large crowds of anti-government protesters, as well as opposition lawmakers, made their way to the Altamira overpass.

The scene then saw armed confrontations between the soldiers that backed Juan Guaido and those inside La Carlota airbase. According to witnesses in La Carlota, the Venezuelan armed forces fired tear gas towards the Altamira overpass, where civilian protesters began to gather, whereas Guaido’s soldiers returned live fire. Riot police also appeared on the scene to try to disperse the crowds. Reports of wounded protesters and arrests are unconfirmed at the time of writing.

Many of the soldiers deployed in the coup attempt withdrew from the scene, later revealing that they had been “deceived” by their superiors. Simultaneously, Chavista leaders took to state and social media to denounce what they termed a coup in progress, and large crowds gathered to defend Miraflores Presidential Palace.

Guaido later attempted to lead a march, including some armed soldiers, into western Caracas, but was stopped by Venezuelan National Guard forces in Chacaíto, 10 kilometers from Miraflores.

Lopez was later reported to have joined his family in the Chilean embassy. However, the Chilean ambassador subsequently explained on Twitter that Lopez and his family had instead moved to the Spanish Embassy, in what he termed a “personal choice.” Lopez was serving a 13 year sentence for his role in the deadly 2014 anti-government protests, which was later commuted to house arrest.

Brazilian authorities also confirmed that 25 soldiers who had taken part in the failed insurrection had taken refuge in the Brazilian embassy.

Guaido was absent for several hours before releasing a video on social media in the evening, calling on his supporters to take to the streets on May 1 to continue the “final phase” of “Operation Freedom”.

The opposition leader went on to claim President Nicolás Maduro “does not have the support of the armed forces,” and vowed that his efforts to oust the Venezuelan government continue “as strong as ever”.

There were several localised outbreaks of violence in Caracas and other cities on the day, with protesters setting up burning barricades and authorities responding with rubber bullets and tear gas. Violent protests were particularly focused in traditional opposition strongholds of eastern Caracas, including outside La Carlota airbase. At the time of writing there were still reports of blocked roads and detonations.

Maduro addressed the country in a televised speech on April 30, accusing those responsible for the military uprising of trying to provoke a “massacre” and lauding the armed forces for their restraint in avoiding direct confrontations.

“Who benefits from these [confrontations]? Who finances them? Undoubtedly the leadership of the terrorist ultra-right party Popular Will,” Maduro declared, referring to the party of Lopez and Guaido.

He added that the day’s actions would not go “unpunished”, explaining that eight military and police officers were wounded in the armed confrontations, before going on to blast United States leaders for their role in endorsing the coup attempt. Maduro also showed his appreciation for the tens of thousands who mobilised to defend the presidential palace from the early hours of April 30.

Accompanied by high-ranking political and military leaders, Maduro ended his speech by calling for a “massive mobilisation” on May 1 to celebrate workers’ day and “defend peace”.

US officials weighed in during the day, with National Security Advisor John Bolton warning Venezuelan defence minister Vladimir Padrino and Supreme Court President Maikel Moreno that this was their “last chance” to support Guaido. US President Donald Trump likewise tweeted that the US “stands with the People of Venezuela and their Freedom!”

The coup attempt was condemned by world leaders, with Bolivian President Evo Morales “vigorously condemning” the putsch and Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel rejecting “an attempt to fill the country with violence”.

The European Union’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini issued a statement in the afternoon, rejecting “any form of violence” and urging “restraint”, in contrast to European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, who tweeted his support for the unfolding coup. United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres also called for “maximum restraint” and for “immediate steps” to be taken to restore calm.

[Reprinted from Venezuela Analysis.]

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