International News

Venezuelan opposition leader calls for protests as Maduro offers a new dialogue

The man challenging President Nicolás Maduro’s hold on power called for nationwide protests on Wednesday to intensify pressure on a leader clinging to the presidency but increasingly abandoned by Western governments.
Juan Guaidó, the head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly who declared himself Venezuela’s rightful president last week, sought to maintain the momentum of his movement as Maduro’s government struck back, ordering that Guaidó’s assets be frozen.
The opposition leader shrugged off the government’s move and called on Venezuelans to step outside their homes and offices for a midday protest. “This January 30, we Venezuelans will unite in the streets peacefully to back our National Assembly, the opening of a path for humanitarian aid, a transitional government and free elections,” Guaidó tweeted several hours before the protest.
The Trump administration is leading an international campaign to drive the leftist Venezuelan leader from power, embracing Guaidó’s arguments that Maduro began a second term after an election riddled with fraud and years of increasingly authoritarian rule that plunged this oil-rich country into an economic and humanitarian catastrophe.
Maduro has relied on the support of the powerful armed forces to stay in office as his popularity has plummeted. On Wednesday, he attended military exercises, where he alleged a group of Venezuelan ex-military officers in Colombia were conspiring against him.
Earlier, he issued a new offer of dialogue to the opposition while warning the American people that intervening in his country could create a new Vietnam-style quagmire.
The dialogue offer, which has been made before, was immediately praised by Russia and drew a tweet from President Trump, who said it came after increased U.S. pressure on the Venezuelan government and economy. The reactions highlighted how the fight for power in the South American country has taken on the overtones of a superpower rivalry.
In Caracas, where supplies of food, medicine and electrical power have shriveled in the last few years, residents expressed frustration with the government but some were wary about joining protests. Maduro’s government has launched a fierce crackdown in working-class neighborhoods that once supported him but are increasingly rising up against his rule.
Rafael Tafuro, a 65-year-old carpenter who was waiting for the subway, said that “of course” he would take part in the demonstrations on Wednesday. “Do you think what we’re living isn’t enough?” he said. “I protest because of everything. I haven’t had work in a year, I’m a carpenter. Materials are way too expensive, and no one has money to pay for my services.”
Edward Churio, 50, who is unemployed, said, “Honestly, I wasn’t planning to participate. I’m out here to find work. If I have time then I’ll go — only if there’s no violence. If protesters get violent, then I’ll leave. I want a solution, things to get better, no matter who is in government.”
In an interview with Russia’s RIA news agency aired Wednesday, Maduro said that he had sent letters to the governments of Mexico, Uruguay, Bolivia, Russia, etc. to involve them in a new process of dialogue with the opposition.
At the same time, he issued a message directed at the American people, warning them that the Trump administration was trying to carry out a coup d’etat in Venezuela that he said would be disastrous.
The United States wants “to put their hands on our oil like they did in Iraq, like they did in Libya,” Maduro added.
“I ask for the support of people of the United States so that there is not a new Vietnam,” Maduro said in the video posted on Facebook.
Russia, which has been Maduro’s most vocal international supporter and is a major investor in Venezuela, praised his willingness to negotiate with the U.S.-backed opposition. “The fact that President Maduro is open to dialogue with the opposition deserves high praise and is commendable,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in a phone call.
In an early morning tweet soon after, Trump seemed to suggest that Maduro’s offer for dialogue was prompted by “U.S. sanctions and the cutting off of oil revenue.” He said a “massive protest” is expected Wednesday and warned Americans against traveling to Venezuela “until further notice.”
On Tuesday evening, four journalists, two Venezuelans and two Chileans, were detained near the presidential palace in central Caracas where they were covering a small pro-government demonstration.
While the Venezuelans were released 10 hours later, the Chileans, Rodrigo Perez and Gonzalo Barahona of TVN, remain in custody, despite efforts by embassy officials to get them freed.
“We request the immediate liberation of our TVN journalists detained in Venezuela,” Chilean President Sebastian Pinera tweeted Wednesday morning. “Freedom of the press is another one of Venezuela’s victims.”
The detentions come as the government is increasingly limiting freedom of expression by intimidating journalists and warning radio stations not to transmit opposition rallies or speeches.
Authorities intensified pressure on the opposition Tuesday with a request by the chief prosecutor to freeze Guaidó’s assets. The request was later ratified by the loyalist Supreme Court as a preventive measure pending a full investigation. The move stopped short of a detention order — something the Trump administration has strongly warned against.
Speaking at the opposition-led National Assembly, which he heads, Guaidó dismissed the move as “nothing new under the sun.” He said it came from a government whose “only answer is persecution and repression.”
The United States strongly criticized the chief prosecutor’s effort. “Let me reiterate—there will be serious consequences for those who attempt to subvert democracy and harm Guaido,” White House national security adviser John Bolton wrote on Twitter.
The United States has escalated its efforts to unseat the leftist Maduro on Monday by punishing the state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), to transfer its control to the opposition. The U.S. move freezes $7 billion in U.S.-based assets and blocks more than $11 billion in revenue that Venezuela would get from oil sales next year through its U.S.-based company Citgo, which owns three refineries in the United States and employs thousands of workers.
In his interview Wednesday with Russian media, Maduro said the decision violated international law and called it one of Bolton’s “most insane” decisions.
“It is an unlawful decision in a bid to expropriate a Venezuelan asset, a Venezuelan company,” he said.
The Treasury Department said money would go to a fund that a transitional government headed by Guaidó could eventually access.
Revenue from oil sales to the United States and from Citgo, which imports Venezuela’s heavy crude oil, refines it and distributes gasoline throughout the United States, is one of the Maduro administration’s main sources of income. These sanctions, experts say, constitute the biggest setback that the populist Maduro has ever confronted.