As Nations Turn Against Maduro, Venezuela Leader Rejects Elections, Parades With Military
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro oversaw a display of the army’s Russian hardware on Sunday, with anti-aircraft flak and tank rounds pounding a hillside to show military force and loyalty in the face of an international ultimatum to call fresh elections.
Maduro, 56, is confronting an unprecedented challenge to his authority after opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president, citing a fraudulent election. Guaido has won wide international support and offers amnesty to soldiers who join him. On Sunday, Israel joined the countries backing the 35-year-old leader.
Early on Sunday, flanked by Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino, Maduro watched a platoon of soldiers release volleys of rocket-propelled grenades, machine gun anti-aircraft fire, and tank rounds at hillside targets, the Russian ordnance kicking up clouds of dust at the Fort of Paramacay, an armored vehicle base.
Maduro said the display showed the world he has the backing of the military, and that Venezuela’s armed forces are ready to defend the country. Maduro says Guaido is taking part in an attempted coup directed by US President Donald Trump’s hardline policy advisers.
“Nobody respects the weak, cowards, traitors. In this world what’s respected is the brave, the courageous, power,” Maduro said as the dust settled on the base.
The show of force was accompanied by a government publicity campaign online based on the slogan “Always Loyal, Never a Traitor,” and followed a high-profile defection by the country’s top military diplomat in the United States on Saturday.
The Fort of Paramacay, about two hours west of the Capital Caracas, was itself the site of an uprising in 2017, when a group of about 20 soldiers and armed civilians attacked the base. The leader of the attack, which was quickly subdued, said he was calling for a transition government.
At a United Nations Security Council debate on Saturday, Russia and China strongly backed Maduro and rejected calls by the United States, Canada, Latin American nations, and European powers for early elections.
Both Russia and China are major creditors to Venezuela. Since the government of Maduro’s late mentor Hugo Chavez, the OPEC nation has invested heavily in Russian weaponry, including Sukhoi fighter jets and heavy armory.
The strategic alliance was in evidence last year, when two Russian nuclear-capable bombers landed in Venezuela. Reuters reported on Friday that private military contractors who do secret missions for Russia flew into Venezuela to beef up security for Maduro.
In a CNN Turk interview that ran on Sunday, Maduro rejected an international ultimatum to call elections within eight days and said Guaido violated the constitution by declaring himself interim leader.
Maduro also said he was open to dialogue and that meeting Trump was improbable but not impossible. The broadcaster dubbed the interview from Spanish into Turkish.
Washington 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 say Maduro stole his second-term election win last May. The former bus driver and union leader cruised to victory after blocking the main opposition candidates from running. Turnout was low.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan had voiced his support for Maduro in a phone call on Thursday.