- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The leader of Venezuela’s opposition movement Juan Guaido declared Tuesday morning he is at the “beginning the final phase” of his campaign to oust socialist President Nicholas Maduro.

In a video posted to Twitter early Tuesday morning, the 35-year-old head of the National Assembly announced the “start of the end of usurpation,” as he was flanked by military personnel and fellow opposition leaders at an airbase in Venezuela. The Trump administration, which has strongly backed Mr. Guaido, quickly signaled its support.

In a tweet, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “the U.S. government fully supports the Venezuelan people in their quest for freedom and democracy. Democracy cannot be defeated.”

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted “We are with you! America will stand with you until freedom & democracy are restored. Vayan con dios! #FreeVenezuela”

The video, shot near an air base in an opposition-controlled section of Caracas, also featured Leopoldo Lopez, a longtime opposition leader and rival to Mr. Maduro who had not been seen since being held under house arrest by the government.

Mr. Lopez said he was released from house arrest “to the order of the Constitution and President Guaidó,” and was at the military base with Mr. Guaido. He called on his supporters to “mobilize,” and “conquer freedom.”

Jorge Rodriguez, the country’s information minister, referred to Mr. Guaido’s move as a “coup d’etat against the Constitution and the peace of the Republic” in a tweet, translated from Spanish. He said the Venezuelan government is “currently confronting and deactivating a small group of traitor military personnel.”

The minister called on the Venezuelan people “to remain in maximum alert so that, together with the glorious Bolivian armed forces, we defeat this attempted coup and preserve peace. We will win.”

Mr. Guaido has recently been traveling the country drawing large crowds at rallies, calling on the Venezuelan people to push out President Nicolas Maduro.

He said in the video that the country’s armed forces and “valiant men connected to the constitution have come to our calling, we have come to this calling.”

Earlier this year, the Maduro government launched an internal offensive against Mr. Guaido, whom the U.S. and several Latin American and European powers backed after what they say was Mr. Maduro’s fraud-ridden re-election vote last year.

Despite having been stripped of his parliamentary immunity by the Maduro government, which set the stage for his potential arrest and prosecution on allegations he violated the constitution by declaring himself interim president in January, Mr. Guaido has vowed to fight on and has called for nationwide rallies on May 1.

Speaking to CNN Tuesday morning, Communications Vice Minister Isbemar Jimenez said “the situation is under control … All military garrisons support Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican and outspoken critic of Mr. Maduro, called on Venezuela’s military to support Mr. Guaido’s opposition movement.

“This is the moment for those military officers in #Venezuela to fulfill their constitutional oath & defend the legitimate interim President @jguaido in this effort to restore democracy,” he tweeted. “You can write history in the hours & days ahead.”

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