Venezuela’s self-declared president may have tried and failed this week to overthrow and expel the country’s embattled ruler, but U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said Friday that Juan Guaidó is winning a power struggle with Nicolás Maduro.
Appearing in the heart of South Florida’s Venezuelan exile community with U.S. Sen. Rick Scott and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Rubio argued that Maduro maintains control over the military but can’t move around his own country amid a popular uprising. He described Maduro as a man with reason to be paranoid, and limited time left on the life of an administration propped up by the Cuban and Russian governments.
“There is a huge misunderstanding in the narrative about this. Juan Guaidó controls no security forces, has no money, controls no television stations, has no way to threaten or jail anyone, and yet he can freely walk the streets and convene thousands of Venezuelans at a moment’s notice,” Rubio said following a gathering of advocates and activists in a conference room at the Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine in Doral. “Nicolás Maduro can not even leave a military base. In fact, he is housed within a base within a base. He’s afraid to even move within the base itself.”
The three lawmakers — who have acted as advisers to President Donald Trump on the Americas — are engaged in something of a tug-of-war themselves.
They gathered the press in Doral Friday to encourage and rally Miami’s vast exile community, but also to push the narrative around the ongoing power struggle in the country as reports describe this week’s efforts as a failed coup. They warned that the situation in Venezuela is both a humanitarian crisis and a threat to U.S. interests in the Western Hemisphere, offering a message contrary to other conservative voices who argue for isolationism.
Rubio also pushed back on reports that the U.S. had possibly overestimated the strength of Guaidó’s backing Tuesday or been led astray by members of Maduro’s inner circle.
“Nicolás Maduro is surrounded by conspirators. I watched this picture the other day where it’s like 12 people around him. I know for a fact, a documented fact, that four of those 12 people actively conspired against him. He knows it, too, by the way,” said Rubio, who declined to explain the source of his information. “So this notion that Maduro is winning is ridiculous.”
Diaz-Balart, Rubio and Scott spoke to the press following a meeting with activists, including the wife and sister of Guaidó’s chief of staff, Roberto Marrero, who was arrested in March by Venezuelan security forces.
Also Friday morning, according to multiple reports, National Security Advisor John Bolton met in the Pentagon with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan to discuss military options for the ongoing situation in the country. And Trump, according to White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, spoke Friday morning with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country has interests in Venezuela and was blamed by Pompeo for persuading Maduro not to flee the country for Cuba.
“I don’t have any new announcements or change in direction,” Sanders said about U.S. efforts in Venezuela. “We continue to stand with the people of Venezuela and the president is continuing to push for aid to be delivered to those people. Beyond that I don’t have any updates, but all options continue to be on the table.”
Russia’s government has dismissed Pompeo’s assertion that it persuaded Maduro to remain in Venezuela. And Maduro has accused the U.S. of organizing a coup, and on Thursday warned that Guaidó’s U.S.-backed movement is threatening to start a civil war.
Calls for the consideration of U.S. military force in Venezuela remain one of the more polarizing aspects of the escalation of protests and clashes over aid. The always on-message Scott, the most hawkish of the three this week on whether the U.S. should consider military force, reiterated his belief Friday that U.S. troops should be tapped to help push aid into the country and accused Maduro of genocide. But intentionally or not, he dropped references to “defending freedom and democracy.”
Rubio said the Organization of American States needs to consider returning to polices enacted during the 1980s to gird against the permanent establishment of foreign military and security interests in Latin America. And Diaz-Balart said that U.S. “narco-terrorist” rivals are creating a situation “more dangerous for the national security interests in the United States than a lot of the things that we have been watching taking place in the Middle East for a number of years,”
But mostly, Friday’s press conference was a call for continued U.S. support of Guaidó’s efforts, and a plea for everyone watching to trust that the plan is working.
“Civil disobedience battles lose every battle except the last one,” said Rubio. “And that’s why the biggest enemy we’re facing is despair.”