Venezuela consul in Miami abandons Maduro amid global push to turn diplomats

What’s happening in Venezuela? Here’s a guide to understand the current crisis

For years, the opposition had struggled to challenge Maduro. But now, Juan Guaidó, the National Assembly leader, appears to have woken up the population in just a couple of months.
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For years, the opposition had struggled to challenge Maduro. But now, Juan Guaidó, the National Assembly leader, appears to have woken up the population in just a couple of months.

Venezuela’s consular officer in Miami — a diplomat with more than 18 years of experience — became the latest foreign service officer to throw her support behind interim President Juan Guaidó, as leader Nicolás Maduro sees himself increasingly isolated at home and abroad.

In a video message broadcast on EVTV Monday, Scarlett Salazar said she was making the decision because “it obeys my democratic principles and values” and she urged other diplomats to “embrace the constitution” and join Guaidó in trying to force new elections.

Salazar’s defection comes as opposition activists around the world are trying to drive a wedge between Maduro and his emissaries abroad. On Saturday, Venezuela’s military attaché in Washington, D.C., Colonel José Luis Silva, also turned his back on Maduro. And last week, Guaidó said that an unnamed consul officer in Houston also recognized him as president.

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While Salazar said the office on Miami’s Brickell Avenue would remain open, people who work at the complex told el Nuevo Herald that the office had been shut since Thursday and that officials “had even taken the flag with them.”

The news comes as Venezuela’s diplomats worldwide are being asked to choose sides in a high-stakes battle over the country. Both Maduro and Guaidó claim to be the legitimate presidents of the nation. While Guaidó has popular support and the backing of much of the international community, Maduro still appears to have the armed forces on his side, a critical ally.

On Monday, about a dozen opposition activists gathered outside the Venezuelan embassy in Bogotá, Colombia, carrying a Venezuelan flag and a four-page document, the recently approved “Amnesty Law,” which provides pardons to military and government officials if they help restore the constitution by recognizing Guaidó.

“With this law, diplomatic officials will have all of their rights respected,” said Francine Howard, with Venezuela’s Voluntad Popular party. “It’s time for them to put themselves on the right side of history.”

Colombia is home to more than 1 million Venezuelans, many of whom have fled the nation’s economic, political and social chaos. Getting a diplomat here to publicly denounce Maduro would be a political coup for the opposition.

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Aware that diplomats would likely face reprisals back home if they were caught accepting the document, or inquiring about the law, the activists assured officials their identities would be protected. In the end, no one agreed to take the document at the embassy or at the consular office. But Howard said they would keep trying.

“We won’t give up until all the officials are aware of this law,” Howard said, “and come to the right side of the constitution.”

As Maduro has seen support crumble, his administration has stepped up calls for a negotiated solution. On Monday, the country’s top diplomat, Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, called on the opposition to come to the table.

“We’re waiting for...the end of this madness and for them to agree to talk with the government,” he said during a press conference. “We are certain that rationality will prevail, it’s the only way. If we start ignoring international law and violating diplomatic conventions, it will only lead to barbarism.”

Many in the opposition are wary of talks, saying such efforts in the past led nowhere. And Guaidó has said the only matters to discuss are Maduro’s resignation and the calling of new elections.

The latest twist in Venezuela’s political crisis came Jan. 23 when Guaidó declared himself president and Washington and others were quick to back him up. Maduro accuses the United States of promoting a coup and trying to install a puppet government, but Guaidó has broad domestic support.

Since anti-government protests began in earnest on Jan. 21, more than 28 people have been murdered during demonstrations, according to human rights groups.

El Nuevo Herald reporter Sonia Osorio contributed to this article.