Merida, January 23, 2019 (venezuelanalysis.com) – President Nicolas Maduro has ordered a complete review of US-Venezuela relations after US Vice President Mike Pence published a video urging Venezuelans to overthrow the government.
The video comes as both Chavista and opposition citizens take to the streets on a holiday commemorating the overthrowing of the Perez Jimenez military dictatorship on January 23, 1958. The Venezuelan opposition has claimed the date will be “historic” this year and a key step in the “transition” efforts.
In his message, Pence formally backs Venezuela’s National Assembly President Juan Guaido, who is challenging the legitimacy of Maduro’s presidency. Guaido stated last week that he was “prepared to assume the interim presidency” should a transition government be formed.
“The US supports the courageous decision of Juan Guaido… to assert that bodies constitutional power, declare Maduro a usurper and call for the establishment of a transitional government,” Pence said.
The US Vice President went on to claim that “Nicolas Maduro is a dictator with no legitimate claim to power,” and that Maduro “has never won the presidency in a free and fair election.”
In accordance with Venezuela’s Constitution, Maduro was sworn in January 10 for his second six-year mandate after defeating three other candidates in the presidential elections of May 2018. The elections, which were boycotted by some sectors of the opposition, were declared to be free, fair, and transparent by independent international electoral observers in the country at the time.
As the good people of Venezuela make your voices heard tomorrow, on behalf of the American people, we say: estamos con ustedes. We are with you. We stand with you, and we will stay with you until Democracy is restored and you reclaim your birthright of Libertad. pic.twitter.com/ThzIAqBoRn
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) January 22, 2019
In response to Pence’s remarks, Maduro ordered his Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza to begin an “absolute” review of relations with Washington.
“What the US government, through Vice President Mike Pence, has done is to give the order to carry out a fascist coup d’état (…) Never before has a high-level official said that the opposition should overthrow the government… this has no historic comparison in the 200 years of US-Venezuela relations,” Maduro claimed.
Pence’s counterpart in Venezuela, Vice President Delcy Rodriguez, also took aim at Pence’s video, stressing that it was “imprudent and interventionist.”
“Yankee, go home,” she told Trump’s number two.
Prospect of violence at the marches?
Caracas also accused Pence of working with opposition activists to sow violence in Wednesday’s marches, and later blame it on the government.
Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez linked Pence’s efforts, which included a recent phone call to Guaido, to Monday’s unsuccessful mutiny and arms robbery by a number of national guardsmen. During the robbery, 51 weapons were stolen, Rodriguez stated, of which 40 have been recovered.
Rodriguez alleged that preliminary investigations have shown that the remaining weapons were “given in to civilians belonging to a terrorist cell of [Juan Guaido’s far-right] Popular Will, so that they may carry out violent actions, cause injuries and deaths in the opposition protest January 23. Why? To fulfil Pence’s orders.”
Authorities also announced that they had dismantled a similar plot in west Venezuela Tuesday, in which three citizens have been detained.
“We presume that the members would have infiltrated the march on January 23, making use of military dress to generate violence and create false positives, threatening the peace and tranquility of our people,” local military commander Fabio Pabon explained from Zulia state.
US Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a vocal Maduro critic and one of the leading proponents of US sanctions, took to Twitter Tuesday night, predicting violence at Wednesdays marches and preemptively pointing the finger at the government’s intelligence agency, the SEBIN.
#SEBIN officials in #Venezuela should reconsider the plan they have for tomorrow before it’s too late.
You are about to cross a line & trigger a response that believe me you are not prepared to face.
You still have time to avoid this.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) January 22, 2019
However, Rubio offered no details about this “plan,” nor any evidence to back his claims.
In light of the threats of violence, President Maduro looked to lower tensions.
“I call for calm and good sense, maximum consciousness and maximum popular mobilisation to defend the homeland, democracy, and the Constitution,” Maduro proclaimed Tuesday. A large Chavista march is set to depart from three points in Caracas Wednesday before joining close to Miraflores Palace.
For his part, Guaido urged his followers to “not fall into the trap of provocations,” whilst at the same time promising that on January 23 “we will expose concrete elements which will achieve a transition… We will throw the tyrant out.”
Fellow opposition leader Maria Corina Machado also promised her followers that “This time is different.” Venezuela’s opposition has frequently left followers unsatisfied in the past by unfulfilled promises that the Bolivarian government is about to be overthrown.
Pockets of violence in Caracas
A small number of violent protests continued in the capital Caracas on Tuesday, with government symbols falling victim to right wing attacks.
In La Pastora sector, a subsidised PDVAL supermarket was looted and a monument to Venezuelan liberation fighter Jose Felix Ribas destroyed.
“The fascists looted and destroyed the PDVSAL in Puerta Caracas, stealing the fridges, computers, and cash. These is the only thing the ultra right knows how to do, bring about destruction, violence and death,” stated Caracas’ municipal chamber President Nahum Fernandez.
Equally, a community centre and library built to commemorate socialist Deputy Robert Serra, who was assassinated in 2014, was torched Monday, with Culture Minister Ernesto Villegas describing it as a “cultural crime.”
There were also disturbances in some sectors of Caracas, with small groups of protesters raising burning barricades, and security forces responding with tear gas and rubber bullets. Several sectors also saw “cacerolazos,” with people banging pots to express their discontent with the government.
In the Catia sector of west Caracas, there were reports that 16 year-old Alixon Pizani died after being shot in the abdomen on Tuesday night, with opposition members pointing the finger at FAES, the special forces branch of the National Bolivarian Police, who were dispersing an opposition group throwing firebombs at a Nino Simon Foundation, dedicated to youth welfare. It is not clear at this time if Pizani was part of this group.