Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido revealed he has held “clandestine meetings” with military officials in his attempt to win support against disputed President Nicolas Maduro.
Guaido, who last week declared himself interim head of state in a direct challenge of Maduro’s authority, claimed that the opposition has offered amnesty to “all those who are found not guilty against crimes against humanity.”
“The military’s withdrawal of support from Mr. Maduro is crucial to enabling a change in government, and the majority of those in service agree that the country’s recent travails are untenable,” he wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times.
He did not, however, reveal who in the military he had been speaking with or what are their positions.
Guaido has said he needs the back of three critical groups – the people, the international community and the military – to oust Maduro, but faces the near-impossible mission to get Venezuela’s military on board.
The 35-year-lawmaker has transformed from a little-known opposition figure into a commanding force in the nation’s politics with the backing of U.S. President Donald Trump and two dozen other nations recognizing him as Venezuela’s interim president.
On Thursday, the European Parliament called on its member states to recognize Guaido as interim president. The EU legislature approved by a 439-104 margin a resolution that also condemned the continued violence and the detention of journalists who sought to cover events there.
The military is a traditional arbiter of political disputes in the country. Venezuela’s top military representative to the U.S., Col. Jose Luis Silva, has defected, but senior military figures in Venezuela have pledged their unwavering support of Maduro.
The turmoil in Venezuela has morphed into a larger geopolitical standoff as Maduro accuses the U.S. of orchestrating a coup by backing Guaido and enacting punishing oil sanctions while powerful Venezuela allies China and Russia continue to stand by the president.
Meanwhile, Maduro huddled Wednesday with military troops, prayed with evangelical supporters and released a video urging the American people to rise up against Trump and support him as Venezuela’s rightful leader.
He warned that the United States was in danger of turning the South American country into another Vietnam War – especially if speculation of military action by the Trump administration is proven correct.
“People from #USA, I ask for your support in order to reject the interference of Donald Trump’s administration which intends to turn my Homeland into a ‘Vietnam war’ in Latin America. Don’t allow it,” he said on social media.
In the U.S., a White House officials said Vice President Mike Pence was traveling to Miami on Friday to meet with community leaders, political prisoners, and former elected officials who have fled Venezuela due to political persecution.
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.
On Tuesday, the government-stacked Supreme Court barred Guaido from leaving the country and froze his bank accounts as a probe into his anti-government activities led by Maduro-ally and chief prosecutor Tarek William Saab advances. U.S. national security adviser John Bolton warned that if Guaido is harmed Venezuela will face “serious consequences.”
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.