Maduro says a US-led 'coup' is behind the political upheaval in Venezuela

Nicolas Maduro
Posted at 3:15 PM, Jan 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-27 15:15:55-05

(CNN) -- As Venezuela's chaotic political situation continues and the world picks sides, President Nicolas Maduro is alleging the United States orchestrated a coup to remove him from the helm of the embattled nation.

In a Sunday interview with CNN Turk, Maduro also accused Juan Guaido, the self-proclaimed interim president and head of the opposition-led National Assembly, of violating "the constitution and all laws," which Maduro said is a matter for the courts.

"I am not the attorney general. It will be the job of the attorney general, it will be up to the courts to determine the steps to follow and we'll see. This pertains to the justice system," he said.

Guaido declared himself acting president last week amid massive and deadly anti-government protests, claiming Maduro was illegitimately elected for a second term.

Maduro, however, says Venezuela is "the victim of a US conspiracy," referring to reports that US Vice President Mike Pence promised Guaido full American support the day before he declared himself Venezuela's new leader.

'Nobody gives us an ultimatum'

On Saturday, officials from the UK, Spain, Germany and France delivered Maduro an ultimatum: Call elections within eight days or Guaido will be recognized as president.

Speaking to CNN Turk, Maduro said Venezuela has held numerous elections of late -- including presidential elections in May (which the US and several Latin American nations did not recognize as legitimate) -- and the European countries should withdraw their demand.

"Nobody gives us an ultimatum, he said. "All of Europe is bowing down to Donald Trump. It's that simple, especially when it comes to Venezuela."

The Venezuelan leader told the Turkish network he has sent many messages to President Trump but has not received a response because "I think he's overwhelmed with his domestic problem and, I believe, I think he despises us. He despises all of America and the Caribbean. I think he despises the world."

He continued, "This is the reason for the coup. They don't want us to get better. They sabotage us and try to destroy the economic system."

Despite taking the hard line that outside interference is behind the political turmoil in his country, Maduro said he was open to sitting down with his rivals.

"We will continue denouncing US lies, and I will continue to encourage national dialogue because I am up for a dialogue with all the political opposition, with the opposition media," he said. "I think dialogue should prevail. I believe in dialogue."

Both Guaido and Maduro's communications minister, Jorge Rodriguez, have said Guaido has met with Maduro-aligned officials. The opposition leader also said he would consider amnesty for Maduro and his allies if they don't hamper his ascension to temporary power.

'Maduro and his mayhem'

From an international standpoint, the time for dialogue seems to have passed, judging from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's address to the UN Security Council on Saturday, during which he urged members to back Guaido's transitional government.

"Our nations must stand up for the rule of law and support the leader who the Venezuelan people have affirmed as their legitimate interim president," Pompeo said. "Either you stand with the forces of freedom, or you're in league with Maduro and his mayhem."

Maduro told CNN Turk that American "power in the world is in decline and it's ending." He also had words for the US secretary of state.

"Pompeo, I see him desperate and full of hate. He's someone that speaks with a lot of hate. He is pro-war. He's not a true diplomat. He's not respectful. They think they can control the world by yelling," he said. "Once again, Venezuela will overcome this coup, and no imperial power will break the moral resistance of the people of Venezuela."

Major military defection

Both leaders appealed Sunday to the military, which is seen as the only institution that could press for fresh elections. During military exercises in Valencia, Maduro called for unity, saying he wanted to see the military grow "more loyal to the people, more loyal to the revolution, more loyal to the country and more loyal to the constitution."

Following a Mass in Caracas to honor the victims of the country's protests, Guaido pitched the amnesty bill crafted by the National Assembly that would protect troops who defect from the Maduro administration.

"This is the moment to put yourself on the side of the constitution. It's not the time to be scared. It's not the time to go backwards, It is not the moment to disrespect the people of Venezuela," he said.

Maduro took a major political hit Saturday when Venezuela's military attaché in Washington, Col. José Luis Silva Silva, said he stands "by the roadmap of acting President Juan Guaido." The map, he said, includes ending Maduro's "usurpation of executive power," beginning the transition to a new government and organizing free and fair elections.

The Venezuelan defense ministry tweeted a screen grab from Silva's statement with the word "TRAIDOR" (traitor) emblazoned over it.

"Insubordination in the face of international interests is an act of treason and cowardice with the fatherland inherited from our liberator Simon Bolivar," the defense ministry tweeted.

In his CNN Turk interview, Maduro referred to Guaido as one of America's "political puppets."

The National Assembly's amnesty bill would also offer pardons to civilians, politicians, public officials and military members accused of crimes or unconstitutional acts during Maduro's tenure or during the regime of his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, who was President from 1999 to 2013. A vote on the bill could come Tuesday.

Despite the guarantees, the head of Venezuela's armed forces says he still supports Maduro.

US diplomats have left, Maduro says

On Thursday, a security alert said nonemergency US employees had 72 hours to leave Venezuela. But Pompeo said the US doesn't recognize Maduro's power to expel the diplomats, and Guaido called on Venezuela's diplomats to remain in the United States.

Pompeo has warned against testing the US' resolve to protect its citizens. National Security Adviser John Bolton echoed that admonition Sunday, tweeting, "Any violence and intimidation against US diplomatic personnel, Venezuela's democratic leader (Guaido) or the National Assembly itself would represent a grave assault on the rule of law with a significant response."

Maduro told CNN Turk on Sunday, "They've left," referring to the US diplomats he ordered out of the country. He said he "authorized for a small group to stay," as his administration negotiates an office to represent US interests in Caracas in lieu of diplomatic relations.

"They will have all the protections," he said.

If this presence, called an "interests section," cannot be established in 30 days, both diplomatic missions will cease activities, select a designee to represent their interests and vacate their embassies, Venezuela's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The US Embassy in Venezuela issued a security alert saying it had limited ability to provide emergency services to US citizens and that Americans in the country "should strongly consider departing Venezuela."

Protests have been deadly

A UN official said Friday that at least 20 people had been killed in protest-related violence last week, while the nongovernmental Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict on Friday pegged the tally at 29 since Wednesday night. More than 350 demonstrators were detained last week, the UN official said Friday.

CNN could not independently confirm the counts.

In addition to the United States and the aforementioned European countries, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru have also recognized Guaido as president. Russia, China, Cuba and Turkey are among those backing Maduro.

The United States is Venezuela's biggest oil customer, accounting for 39% of the OPEC nation's deliveries last year, according to ClipperData.

The US Treasury Department said Friday it plans to use economic and diplomatic tools to ensure any commercial transactions with the Venezuelan government are "consistent" with Guaido's US-recognized government.

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