The Latest: Venezuelan military attache breaks with Maduro - InfoNews

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The Latest: Venezuelan military attache breaks with Maduro

Government supporters hold a life-size image of Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez during a rally in La Guaira, Venezuela, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Chavez's protege, says he's willing to engage in talks with the opposition in order to avoid violence in a conflict over who is the legitimate leader of the country. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
January 26, 2019 - 4:17 PM

The Latest on the political crisis in Venezuela (all times local):

8:05 p.m.

A man identifying himself as Venezuela's military attache in Washington has broken with Nicolas Maduro and says he now will report to an opposition leader trying to wrest control of the government.

In a video published Saturday, Col. Jose Luis Silva called on other members of the military to join him in defecting from Maduro's government, saying they need to avoid "attacking" protesters whose only aim is to feed themselves.

"The armed forces have a fundamental role to play in the restoration of democracy," Silva said in the video which he said was shot at his office in the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, sitting in front of the nation's red, blue and yellow flag.

Venezuela's top commanders have pledged loyalty to Maduro's government in the days since National Assembly President Juan Guaido declared himself interim leader with the aim of calling new elections in accordance with the constitution.

But support for Maduro's rule is weaker among the rank and file, whose households are suffering from widespread shortages and hyperinflation like their civilian counterparts. Last week, a small National Guard unit stole a stockpile of weapons in what it said was an attempt to oust Maduro. The uprising was quelled and 25 guardsmen arrested.

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6:30 p.m.

Venezuela's government has backtracked on an order that gave U.S. Embassy personnel 72 hours to leave the country.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry said that it is now negotiating the establishment of a U.S. Interests Office in Venezuela and will allow U.S. Embassy personnel to remain in the country while talks take place.

The statement said talks about an interest section will have a 30-day limit and if no agreement is reached embassy personnel will then have to leave the country.

President Nicolas Maduro broke diplomatic relations with the United Sates on Wednesday and had given embassy personnel three days to leave the country. But the Trump administration had refused to obey his directive, arguing that Maduro is no longer Venezuela's legitimate president.

The new decision by Venezuela's government puts off a potential conflict between both countries.

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3:15 p.m.

Colombia's Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes is urging the international community to back an end to what he calls "the usurpation of power" by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and support a transition to free elections led by self-declared interim president Juan Guaido.

Holmes told the U.N. Security Council on Saturday that "the dictatorship in Venezuela has emerged as a threat to peace and security and stability in the region." He said it's also "as being an affront to international law, and in particular to inter-American law and rights."

Holmes said Colombia also came to the council "to ask the international community to demand that the life and well-being of Juan Guaido is upheld" — as well as those of all "who fight for democracy."

Holmes said Colombia is seeking international support for the delivery of humanitarian aid to Venezuela, as well as backing calls by several countries for the International Criminal Court to investigate incidents in Venezuela.

He said it also wants to support "measures to ensure protection for assets and goods confiscated by the dictatorship and lost to corruption."

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3:05 p.m.

Venezuela's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza is dismissing demands by European countries for President Nicolas Maduro to call new elections in eight days. He says the call is "almost childlike" and adds that the country "will not allow anyone to impose on us any decision or order."

Leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Spain and Belgium issued statements Saturday saying they will recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela's president if Maduro doesn't call a new vote for president in eight days

Arreaza asked the U.N. Security Council where Venezuela's constitution allows an individual to proclaim himself president — as National Assembly president Guaido did on Wednesday.

"Show me! Show me!," Arreaza said. "The name of the president is President Maduro."

Guaido was quickly recognized as the country's leader by U.S. President Donald Trump and others, who say the constitution allows the congressional leader to become president when that post is vacant.

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1:20 p.m.

The U.N.'s political chief says there are differing views on what the future should hold for Venezuela but the goal is "a political solution that will allow the country's citizens to enjoy peace, prosperity and all their human rights."

Rosemary DiCarlo reiterated U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' call on all parties to commit to holding an "inclusive and credible political dialogue to address the protracted crisis in the country" and his offer to help resolve the crisis.

The U.N. undersecretary-general for political and peace-building affairs painted a grim picture of the impact of the protracted crisis in Venezuela to the Security Council on Saturday. Di Carlos said it has created "high levels of political polarization, growing humanitarian needs and serious human rights concerns.

She says "the economic situation in the country has become dire," pointing to the International Monetary Fund's report that inflation hit 1.37 million per cent last year and real GDP in 2019 is projected to drop by 18 per cent.

DiCarlo said "nearly all 30 million Venezuelans are affected by hyperinflation and a collapse of real salaries; shortages of food, medicine and basic supplies; (and) deterioration of health and education services."

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12:50 p.m.

Venezuela's government is rejecting demands by European nations that it quickly call new presidential elections.

Ruling party chief Diosdado Cabello said Saturday that leaders like Spain's Pedro Sanchez should think twice before lecturing Venezuela on democracy.

Sanchez became prime minister after his predecessor lost a no-confidence vote amid a corruption scandal in his party, though the former prime minister himself was never charged.

In Cabello's words, "Who elected him?"

He told red-shirted supporters at a rally in Cojedes state that "Nobody can come and give us orders."

The European Union's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Saturday it will recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezeula's leader if the government doesn't announce new elections within the coming days.

Earlier Saturday, France, Germany, Britain and Spain set an eight-day deadline for calling elections for recognizing Guaido's leadership.

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11:55 a.m.

It's "Play Ball!" for Venezuela's besieged socialist government. It wants to go ahead with an international baseball tournament despite safety concerns stemming from anti-government unrest that has roiled the nation in the past week.

On Saturday, Sports Minister Pedro Infante said the government can guarantee security for the teams from five countries that have signed up to participate in the Caribbean Series, which is set to start Feb. 2 in the central city of Barquisimeto.

Major League Baseball has already recommended in the "strongest terms" that players and staff not travel to Venezuela for the tournament.

The Caribbean Professional Baseball Leagues Confederation has yet to announce whether the tournament will go ahead in Venezuela or perhaps in another venue. Venezuela was also supposed to host the tournament in 2018 but it was moved to Mexico over fears of unrest.

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11:25 a.m.

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia is accusing the United States of attempting "to engineer a coup d'etat" in Venezuela. And he's demanding to know whether the Trump administration "is ready to use military force" against President Nicolas Maduro's government.

Nebenzia told the U.N. Security Council Saturday that Venezuela does not pose a threat to international peace and security and should not be on its agenda.

In his words, "If anything does represent a threat to peace, it is the shameless and aggressive actions of the United States and their allies in the ouster of the legitimate elected present of Venezuela."

Nebenzia said "extremist opponents of the legitimate government" led by Maduro have failed to defeat him and "have chosen maximum confrontation" including the artificial creation of a parallel government.

He added, "We strongly oppose those who are pushing the Venezuelan society to the edge of a bloodbath," and said, "The United States are painting a picture of a confrontation between the Maduro regime and the people of Venezuela. This picture is far from reality."

Nebenzia said Maduro has "broad support" among the Venezuela people, and he cited an October 2018 poll by an organization close to the opposition reported that the National Assembly led by Guaido "is not supported by almost 70 per cent of the people of Venezuela."

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10:55 a.m.

The European Union as a whole says it could recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezeula's leader if the government doesn't announce new elections within the coming days.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement Saturday that the European bloc would intensify contacts with international partners "in the coming hours" on Venezuela's crisis.

The EU urgently called for new elections, saying Venezuela's presidential vote last year was not democratic.

Mogherini said "in the absence of an announcement on the organization of fresh elections with the necessary guarantees over the next days, the EU will take further actions, including on the issue of recognition of the country's leadership."

Earlier Saturday, France, Germany, Britain and Spain set an eight-day deadline for calling elections for recognizing Guaido's leadership.

The Europeans' position opens a new front in their tensions with Russia, which strongly supports Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

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10:30 a.m.

Britain has become the latest European power to say it will recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela's interim president unless the government calls new presidential elections.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Saturday Britain will recognize Guaido unless the government of President Nicolas Maduro makes an announcement about new elections within eight days.

Germany, France and Spain made similar announcements Saturday.

Hunt complained in a tweet that Maduro's election was marred by "banning opposition candidates, ballot box stuffing and counting irregularities in a deeply flawed election"

He said "it is clear Nicolas Maduro is not the legitimate leader of Venezuela."

Guaido is the head of the congress, which does not recognize Maduro's re-election last year as legitimate.

The United Nations Security Council is discussing the crisis in Venezuela.

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10:20 a.m.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is urging all nations to support the Venezuelan people as they try to free themselves from what he calls Nicolas Maduro's "illegitimate mafia state." Pompeo says they should back congressional leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela's interim president.

America's top diplomat told a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Saturday that "the humanitarian situation demands action now."

He said nine out of 10 Venezuelan citizens live in poverty and 3 million have been forced to flee their homeland. He said that has threatened international peace and security."

Pompeo accused Russia and China of trying "to prop up Maduro while he is in dire straits ... in the hopes of recovering billions of dollars in ill-considered investments and assistance made over the years."

But Pompeo said no country has done more to sustain "the nightmarish condition of the Venezuelan people" than Cuba, which he said has sent "security and intelligence thugs" to back Maduro.

He said it's the time for nations to pick a side. In his words, "Either you stand with the forces of freedom, or you're in league with Maduro and his mayhem."

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9:45 a.m.

The United States has barely survived a procedural vote to go ahead with a U.N. Security Council meeting it called on the crisis in Venezuela.

The U.S. received the minimum nine "yes" votes to hold Saturday's meeting on the situation in Venezuela, with four countries voting "no" and two abstaining.

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia opposed the meeting, saying Venezuela does not represent a threat to international peace and security.

Instead, he said, the country is facing a U.S. effort "to attempt a coup d'etat in the country."

Nebenzia said the meeting should be held under a council agenda item on "threats to international peace and security" — which he said the U.S. poses with its attempt at intervention.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo countered that Nicolas Maduro has repressed the Venezuelan people as president, left them starving and fleeing the country.

He said opposition leader Juan Guaido, whom the U.S. has recognized as president, has promised elections and the long-delayed council discussion cannot be delayed again.

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8:35 a.m.

Germany has joined France and Spain in saying it will recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as the interim president of Venezuela if President Nicolas Maduro's government doesn't hold new presidential elections.

A spokeswoman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel tweeted Saturday that, "the people of Venezuela must be able to freely and securely decide about its future."

The French president and Spain's prime minister made a similar announcement.

The United Nations Security Council is meeting later Saturday to discuss the situation in Venezuela after Guaido declared himself the interim president of Venezuela on Wednesday, setting off a standoff with Maduro.

Guaido is head of the congress, which considers Maduro's re-election last year invalid. The United States and several other countries immediately recognized Guaido as president, while Maduro accuses opponents of staging a coup.

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7:45 a.m.

President Emmanuel Macron says France is ready to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela's "president in charge" if no elections are held within eight days.

Macron tweeted Saturday in French and Spanish that "the Venezuelan people should be able to freely decide their future." He said France is working with European partners to encourage a "political process" that would solve Venezuela's leadership crisis.

Spain's prime minister made a similar announcement Saturday.

The United Nations Security Council is meeting later Saturday to discuss Venezuela after Guaido declared himself the interim president of Venezuela on Wednesday, setting off a standoff with President Nicolas Maduro. The United States and other countries immediately recognized Guaido as president, while Maduro accuses opponents of staging a coup.

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7 a.m.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez says that unless Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro calls for new elections within eight days Spain will recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as the legitimate president of the South American country.

Sanchez says on Saturday that "Spain is giving the government of Nicolas Maduro eight days to convoke free, transparent and democratic elections, and if that does not occur, Spain will recognize Juan Guaido as the president charged with carrying out said elections."

Sanchez adds that as leader of Venezuela's National Assembly, Guaido is "the person who should lead the transition to free elections."

Sanchez says that his government wants the other 27 members of the European Union to back its position.

Guaido declared himself the interim president of Venezuela on Wednesday, setting off a standoff with Maduro.

The United States and other countries immediately recognized Guaido as president.

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1:15 a.m.

Venezuela's political showdown moves to the United Nations where a Security Council meeting called by the United States will pit backers of President Nicolas Maduro against the Trump administration and supporters of the country's self-declared interim leader Juan Guaido.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to address Saturday's meeting along with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza and the other council members, which include supporters of both dueling presidents.

The session focusing on Venezuela's crisis comes a day after Guaido vowed to remain on the streets until his country has a transitional government, while Maduro dug in and accused his opponents of orchestrating a coup.

In clashing press conferences, Guaido urged his followers to stage another mass protest next week, while Maduro pushed his call for dialogue.

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Eds: A previous version of the 12:50 p.m. item incorrectly stated that the previous Spanish prime minister resigned amid corruption charges. The political scandal did not involve charges against the prime minister.

News from © The Associated Press, 2019
The Associated Press

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