Andres Oppenheimer

Venezuela’s National Assembly leader Juan Guaido denounces Russia’s “intervention” in Venezuela

Venezuela’s National Assembly President, Juan Guaidó, who has been recognized by the United States and more than 50 other democracies as Venezuela’s caretaker president, told me in an interview that the recent arrival of Russian military personnel in his country is a blatant foreign military intervention.

“It’s very serious, because foreign military aircraft arrived in Venezuelan soil without authorization from parliament, which is the only one that can authorize foreign military missions of any shape or rank in Venezuela,” Guaidó told me. He was referring to Venezuela’s National Assembly, which the opposition won by a landslide in 2015 elections, and which he currently heads.

Two Russian military planes landed in Venezuela on March 24, carrying about 100 military personnel and 35 tons of their equipment, Russian officials said. U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton responded in a March 29 statement that this was a provocation, and a “direct threat to international peace and security in the region.”

Guaidó told me that Venezuela’s dictator Nicolas Maduro “has often denounced (U.S.) interference and intervention, but it turned out that it has been Maduro who has facilitated not only the arrival of these two (Russian) planes, but also the Cuban presence in intelligence and counter-intelligence activities.”

When I asked him how many Cubans he believes are in his country, Guido said that their number has varied between 20,000 and 40,000, “including between 2,000 and 2,500 who are exclusively assigned to track and persecute” members of Venezuela’s armed forces.

Guaidó told me that he sees three options to solve Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis in the short term.

The first one is to force Maduro out of office through massive domestic protests. Guaidó has called for a mega-march on May 1 that he has vowed will be “the biggest demonstration in our history,” and will kick off the “definitive phase” of Venezuela’s fight to restore democracy.

The second option he cited would be a military uprising to restore constitutional rule, similar to what happened in his country in 1958 when dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez was overthrown.

The third option would be one that takes place “with international backing or cooperation.” Guaidó said that “all of these options are on the table and are being responsibly evaluated.” When I pressed him about the third one, he stated that “we already have foreign interference in Venezuela, thanks to the Cubans, and thanks to the presence of Russian military aircraft.”

Elaborating on the May 1 mega-march, Guaidó said it will seek to draw public employees and relatives of military officials. He did not rule out that it may be the first massive opposition demonstration to head toward the presidential palace, or to a military garrison.

Maduro is against the wall, Guaidó claimed. Venezuela’s economy has collapsed, the inflation rate is more than 10 million percent a year, the minimum wage has collapsed to about 4 dollars a month, and there are widespread shortages of food and medicines.

Meantime, U.S. oil sanctions against Venezuela are beginning to kick in, depriving the Maduro regime of most of its income. And neither Russia nor China are lending Maduro fresh money, preferring to only refinance old debts, he added.

My opinion: Guaidó is right in most of what he says, but Venezuela’s tragedy is that both Maduro and Guaidó are against the wall.

While the Maduro regime is financially-strangled, Guaido’s opposition may lose momentum if months go by and Maduro remains in power.

International attention may shift to other parts of the world, and millions more of Venezuelans may lose hope and leave the country, in addition to the more than 3.4 million that have already done so.

Much like happened in Cuba, the middle class will leave the country, and Maduro will be left with fewer mouths to feed, more dollars from family remittances of those living abroad, and a mass of impoverished people who his dictatorship can easily control through government food subsidies.

That’s why Guaido’s May 1 anti-Maduro demonstration may indeed be a defining moment in Venezuela’s crisis.

The Russian and Cuban presence in Venezuela may draw some international concern, but nothing like an unprecedented demonstration against Maduro’s dictatorship will re-energize domestic and foreign support for the restoration of democracy in Venezuela. It’s in your hands, Venezuelans!

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Don’t miss the “Oppenheimer Presenta” tv show at 8 p.m. Sundays on CNN en Espanol. Andres Oppenheimer will present his latest book, “The Robots are Coming,” at 8 p.m. May 2 at Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables. Twitter: @oppenheimera

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