Maduro denounces election call but says ready to talk

January 28, 2019

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro rejected an international ultimatum to call elections within eight days and said opposition leader Juan Guaido had violated the country's constitution by declaring himself leader.

Maduro, in an interview with CNN Turk aired Sunday, also said he was open to dialogue and that meeting U.S. President Donald Trump was improbable but not impossible. The broadcaster dubbed the interview from Spanish into Turkish.

Washington, which has recognized Guaido as a leader, had on Saturday urged the world to "pick a side" on Venezuela and financially disconnect from Maduro's government.

Venezuela has sunk into turmoil under Maduro with food shortages and protests amid an economic and political crisis that has sparked mass emigration and inflation that is seen rising to 10 million percent this year.

Britain, Germany, France, and Spain all said they would recognize Guaido if Maduro failed to call fresh elections within eight days, an ultimatum Russia said was "absurd" and the Venezuelan foreign minister called "childlike."

Washington, Canada most Latin American nations and many European states have labeled Maduro's second-term election win last May fraudulent.

Maduro retains the loyalty of the armed forces, though Venezuela's top military envoy to the United States on Saturday defected to Guaido.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had voiced his support for Maduro in a phone call on Thursday.

 The U.S. calls on countries to ‘pick a side’ in Venezuela crisis

The United States secretary of state has called on countries to “pick a side” on Venezuela, urging them to back opposition leader Juan Guaido and calling for free and fair elections as soon as possible in a speech at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

“Now, it is time for every other nation to pick a side. No more delays, no more games. Either you stand with the forces of freedom, or you're in league with [Nicolas] Maduro and his mayhem,” Mike Pompeo told the 15-member UNSC on Saturday.

Pompeo was addressing the UNSC after Washington and its regional allies recognized Guaido as head of state and urged Venezuelan President Maduro to step down.

“We call on all members of the Security Council to support Venezuela's democratic transition and interim President Guaido's role in it,” he said.

Russia unsuccessfully tried to stop the meeting requested by the United States. Moscow has accused Washington of plotting a coup attempt, placing Venezuela at the heart of a growing geopolitical duel.

“Venezuela does not represent a threat to peace and security,” Russia's UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, told the Security Council.

“If anything does represent a threat to peace, it is the shameless and aggressive action of the United States and their allies aimed at the ouster of the legitimately elected president of Venezuela,” he said.

 Russia, China block U.S. push for UN to back Guaido

Meantime, Russia, China, South Africa, and Equatorial Guinea blocked a U.S. push for a UNSC statement expressing full support for Venezuela's National Assembly as the country's “only democratically elected institution”.

Maduro stripped the National Assembly, currently headed by Guaido, of legislative powers nearly a year and a half after the opposition gained control of the House in December 2015.

The session comes a day after Guaido vowed to remain on the streets until his country has a transitional government, while Maduro dug in and accused his opponents of orchestrating a coup.

In rival press conferences, Guaido urged his followers to stage another mass protest next week, while Maduro pushed his call for dialogue.

Each man appeared ready to defend his claim to the presidency no matter the cost, with Guaido telling supporters that if he is arrested they should “stay the course” and peacefully protest.

The UNSC meeting comes on a day the European Union (EU) and several of its member nations, including France, Spain, and Germany, called on Maduro to hold free and fair elections within eight days or else they will consider recognizing Guaido as the legitimate leader of the beleaguered country.

Venezuela's foreign minister rejected the European ultimatum, insisting that Maduro remained the legitimate president.

“Nobody is going to give us deadlines or tell us if there are elections or not,” Jorge Arreaza told the special UN session.

“How is it that you can issue an ultimatum to a sovereign government?” he said.

 Venezuela ‘coup’ grew from secret talks in the U.S.

Elsewhere, the political crisis which came to a head in Venezuela this week followed “weeks of secret diplomacy,” including a visit last month to the United States, Colombia, and Brazil by opposition leader Juan Guaido.  

Guaido declared himself the interim president earlier this week and won immediate recognition from the U.S., in a move denounced by President Nicolas Maduro and a number of countries as a coup.

According to the Associated Press, Guaido quietly traveled to Washington, Colombia, and Brazil in mid-December to brief officials on his plans to provoke unrest to coincide with Maduro’s swearing-in for a second term on January 1.

Playing a key role behind the scenes was Canada, whose Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke to Guaido the night before the swearing-in ceremony to offer support should he confront Maduro, AP reported. 

At least 20 people have lost their lives in the unrest, but the planned “coup” hit the wall after the army rallied behind Maduro and countries like Russia, China, Turkey, and Iran denounced outside interference. 

According to an anonymous diplomat from the so-called Lima Group of 14 Latin American countries, some opposition elements had been anxious about the putsch going awry as Guaido's plan was endorsed for implementation. 

“Some moderate factions were left in the dark or wanted to go slower, worrying that a bold move would lead to another failure for the opposition,” AP quoted the source as saying. 

Guaido, the president of the opposition-run congress, proclaimed himself interim president on January 23. Within 24 hours, the U.S. recognized him and announced $20 million in “humanitarian aid.”

A senior Canadian official told the news agency that the decision to confront President Maduro directly was only possible because of the strong support from the Trump administration.

While the U.S. says it's trying to rescue Venezuela's democracy, Washington has a long history of interventions - military and otherwise - in Latin American politics. 

The Trump administration's leading role in recognizing Guaido as the interim president of Venezuela returns the U.S. to a more aggressive role in Latin America than it has had for years.

President Trump said in August last year that a “military option” was on the table to deal with the ongoing Venezuelan crisis.

Two drones packed with explosives reportedly flew toward Maduro in August in what the government has described as a failed assassination attempt.

On Saturday, Russia, China, South Africa, and Equatorial Guinea blocked a U.S. push for a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) statement expressing full support for Guaido even as he has not run in any presidential race. 

Russia has accused the United States of backing a coup attempt, placing Venezuela at the heart of a growing geopolitical duel. 

In a speech at the UNSC, the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on the world countries to “pick a side” on Venezuela and urged them to back Guaido.

“Now, it is time for every other nation to pick a side. No more delays, no more games. Either you stand with the forces of freedom, or you're in league with Maduro and his mayhem,” Pompeo told the 15-member council.

The U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, who is known for his hawkish views, said on Thursday that Washington is making every attempt to cut Venezuela’s revenue streams and make sure the oil revenue goes to the opposition leader.

(Source: agencies)

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