Venezuela's Presidente Nicolas Maduro wipes the sweat from his forehead during a session of the National Constituent Assembly at Palacio Federal Legislativo in Caracas, Venezuela August 10, 2017.
(photo credit: CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/ REUTERS)
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was "ready" to leave Venezuela following countrywide opposition and protests calling for him to step down until the Russian government persuaded him to stay in power, United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during an appearance on Fox News' Special Report Tuesday night.
According to the interview, Pompeo has previously noted in the past that Maduro was ready to board a plane to Havana, under the United States' wishes, until the Russian government intervened.
"It's our understanding that he was ready to go, he made a decision that we have been urging him to make for quite some time, and then he was diverted from those actions by the Russians - we hope he'll reconsider," Pompeo stated on the interview.
Pompeo did not indulge on any specifics on the deal that the United States had with Maduro. However, he stated that the Russian and Cuban governments are in direct opposition of Venezuela's "duly elected leader" Juan Guaido, by deploying around 20,000 Cuban troops and agents while attempting to support the Maduro government throughout the protests stemming from last year.
A little over 50 nations dispute the results of the Venezuelan elections from last year, claiming that the elections produced a false result, and Maduro's re-election and claim as president of the country holds no merit.
Guaido, who was declared president in January and has been recognized by numerous western countries, has opposed the continued rule of Nicolas Maduro who came to power in 2013 after the death of Hugo Chavez. Guaido has the backing of the National Assembly while Maduro has the backing of his own political structure, Russia, Turkey, Iran, Cuba and also armed groups called Colectivos.
The interview showed a Venezuelan ambassador claiming the United States are currently preparing for a military invasion. His reasoning behind such claims is that the US has over 3,000 members stationed within their embassy.
Pompeo said that the US never discloses those numbers but then responded by saying, "if the question is, if the United States [are] prepared for military action if that's what it takes to restore the democracy there in Venezuela? The president has been consistent and unambiguous about that, that the option to use military force is on the table."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Pompeo by phone that further "aggressive steps" in Venezuela would be fraught with the gravest consequences, Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.
Lavrov also condemned what he called the United States' "interference" in Venezuela's internal affairs as a breach of international law, adding that dialogue between all political forces is required in the Latin American country.
Pompeo urged an end to Russian involvement in Venezuela on the call with Lavrov, the State Department said.
Pompeo told Lavrov that Cuban and Russian involvement risks destabilizing Venezuela and upending the relationship between Washington and Moscow, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.Gunfire erupted on Tuesday morning hours after Guaido announced that military units backed him
to begin the “final phase” of Operation Freedom to end the “usurpation” of the Maduro regime.
“We’ve been working to restore democracy for months. You can never predict which day events will happen; we always knew there would a day that would look like today,” Pompeo said. “We have planned out lots of options.”
The 35-year-old Guaido spoke while it was still dark, before six in the morning. Soldiers, reported to be from the National Guard, were seen on a bridge near the airport, their heavy-machine guns on an overpass and crates of bananas intermixed with belts of ammunition. Tear gas was fired in the air. By nine in the morning crowds were gathering, answering the call of Guaido to go to the streets to “recover our freedom.” Lopez called on “everyone to mobilize” to retake the people’s freedom.
Tens of thousands of people were marching in Caracas in support of Guaido on Tuesday, clashing with riot police along the main Francisco Fajardo thoroughfare.
“The national armed forces have taken the correct decision, and they are counting on the support of the Venezuelan people,” Guaido said.
Guaido, the leader of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly, in January invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency, arguing that Maduro’s re-election in 2018 was illegitimate.
He has been traveling outside the capital of Caracas more and more in recent weeks to try to put pressure on Maduro to step down.
The US has supported Juan Guaido in his attempt to remove Nicolas Maduro from power. Throughout Tuesday, there was a complex crisis in Caracas, as Guaido announced that some in the military backed his attempt to remove Maduro.
Now the Trump administration is increasing its verbal backing for Guaido. It is a major gamble and test for Washington. “If Cuban troops and militias do not immediately cease military and other operations for the purpose of causing death and destruction to the Constitution of Venezuela, a full and complete embargo,” would follow, warned US President Donald Trump.
Seth J. Frantzman and Reuters contributed to this report.
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