Large crowds of protesters gathered in Caracas waving flags and chanting “Get out Maduro” in what was shaping up to be the largest demonstration since a wave of unrest that left more than 120 dead in 2017. (Jan. 23)
WASHINGTON – Carlos Vecchio found open doors at the White House and on Capitol Hill this week as the newly arrived Venezuelan diplomat sought U.S. assistance in trying to oust his country’s disputed president, Nicolas Maduro.
Vecchio was locked out of his own country’s embassy Wednesday – it was shuttered by Maduro amid that country’s bloody power struggle – so he held an ad hoc news conference at a Washington think tank instead.
Asked about a possible U.S. military intervention to remove Maduro from power, Vecchio said the only thing he’s discussed with the Trump administration is a transition to democracy for his country and gaining access to Venezuela’s frozen assets in the USA.
“We haven’t talked about any other option,” Vecchio told the crowd of U.S. and Latin American journalists. “We’re clear about our diplomatic mission,” which is to rally international support for deposing Maduro, establishing a transitional government and calling elections.
President Donald Trump worked to strengthen the hand of Juan Guaido, an opposition leader who declared himself interim president of Venezuela.
Trump spoke with Guaido by phone Wednesday to reaffirm his support for the 35-year-old leader’s push to oust Maduro. Trump recognized Guaido as the interim president of Venezuela and blasted Maduro’s regime as corrupt and illegitimate.
“President Donald J. Trump spoke today with Venezuelan Interim President Juan Guaido to congratulate him on his historic assumption of the presidency and to reinforce President Trump’s strong support for Venezuela’s fight to regain its democracy,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement Wednesday.
“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,” Sanders said.
The two men discussed the anti-Maduro protests across Venezuela on Wednesday. Similar demonstrations turned deadly in recent days.
The United Nations said at least 40 people have been killed, many allegedly shot by the Maduro-controlled security officers or other pro-government forces. An additional 850 Venezuelans have been detained in the past week, said Rupert Colville, U.N. human rights spokesman.
Before a cheering crowd in Caracas, Guaido said Venezuelans took to the streets in more than 5,000 spots across the country to demand their freedom from Maduro’s iron grip, according to The Associated Press. He had called for people to stage a peaceful demonstration by stepping out of their homes and workplaces for two hours.
“Guaido is being targeted by Venezuelan Supreme Court,” Trump tweeted Wednesday, referring to a court order barring Guaido from leaving Venezuela. “Massive protest expected today. Americans should not travel to Venezuela until further notice.”
Vecchio did not answer reporters’ questions about what location he was using for his contested diplomatic mission. “I got here yesterday,” Vecchio said when asked if he sought access to the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood.
He said he was more focused on the complicated task of getting access to his country’s U.S.-based assets, so Venezuela’s socialist forces wouldn’t “destroy them.”
“We are trying to protect all of them” from seizure, he said, adding that he would meet with officials at the White House and the U.S. Treasury on Thursday. “This is a complex situation.”
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