Venezuela’s disputed president Nicolas Maduro is holding firm in refusing to step down amid mounting political and international pressure, but said he is “willing to sit down” and negotiate with opposition leaders “for the sake of Venezuela’s peace and its future.”
The former union leader and bus driver told Russia’s state-owned RIA Novosti news agency on Wednesday that any talks with the opposition could be held with the mediation of other countries; however, he rejected calls for a snap election as blackmail.
“I won legitimately,” he said. “If the imperialists want a new election, let them wait until 2025.”
Maduro, who rose to power after replacing Hugo Chavez six years ago, is battling a surge of political maneuvering from the opposition in recent weeks – including the head of the opposition-led national assembly, Juan Guaido, declaring himself interim head of state in a direct challenge to Maduro’s authority.
This move prompted two dozen nations, including the United States and Russia, to pick sides in the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis.
The Trump administration has imposed sanctions that could starve the already distressed nation of billions in oil revenue – an effort to mount pressure against the defiant Maduro. Meanwhile, Russia is one of the staunchest supporters of Maduro and have given him full backing.
On Wednesday, Maduro accused Trump of ordering neighboring Colombia to murder him.
“Donald Trump has without a doubt given an order to kill me and has told the government of Colombia and the Colombian mafia to kill me,” Maduro said, reprising a constant accusation of his and Chavez’s over the years.
Bogota and Washington both have routinely denied the accusation; however, speculation of military action against Maduro was fueled this week when U.S. national security adviser John Bolton carried a notepad with the words “5,000 troops to Colombia” when announcing sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned oil company on Monday.
The White House confirmed to Fox News that the note was in relation to the ongoing situation in Venezuela.
On Tuesday, Maduro announced he is expanding Venezuela’s civilian armed militia to two million members. He vowed never to let the U.S. intervene in Venezuela’s affairs.
“These are moments of history — and battle,” he said.
The White House revealed Wednesday that Trump spoke with Guaido to “congratulate him on his historic assumption of the presidency” and reinforce the United States’ support for “Venezuela’s fight to regain its democracy.”
“They agreed to maintain regular communication to support Venezuela’s path back to stability, and to rebuild the bilateral relationship between the United States and Venezuela,” a statement from the White House said.
Meanwhile, Guaido urged Venezuelans to step outside their homes and workplaces for two hours starting at noon in the first mass mobilization since he declared himself the nation’s rightful leader a week ago during another round of protests.
“Venezuela is set on change,” Guaido said.
On Tuesday, the Venezuelan Supreme Court barred the 35-year-old opposition leader from leaving the country after chief prosecutor Tarek William Saab announced that he was opening a criminal investigation.
Guaido has thus far managed to avoid arrest and the Supreme Court did not strip him of his legislative immunity, though the new investigation could signal that Maduro’s administration is moving to take a more punitive approach.
Speaking Tuesday outside the National Assembly, Guaido said he was aware of personal risks.
“I don’t underestimate the threat of persecution at the moment, but here we are,” he said.
The previously little-known Guaido has re-invigorated the opposition movement by pushing for three immediate goals: to end Maduro’s “usurpation” of power, establish a transitional government and hold a new presidential election.
The U.N. human rights office says security forces in Venezuela detained nearly 700 people in just one day of anti-government protests last week — the highest such tally in a single day in the country in at least 20 years. It says more than 40 people are believed to have been killed.
John Roberts and Samuel Chamberlain, as well as the Associated Press, have contributed to this report.