One week after President Donald Trump’s administration recognized an opposition leader as Venezuela’s interim president, the Latin American nation’s disputed leader Nicolas Maduro warned Wednesday that the United States was in danger of turning his country into another Vietnam War.
“People from #USA, I ask for your support in order to reject the interference of Donald Trump’s administration which intends to turn my Homeland into a ‘Vietnam war’ in Latin America. Don’t allow it!” Maduro posted on his Twitter account, in English.
In a video published in Spanish on his Facebook account, Maduro said if “the U.S. intends to invade us, they will have a Vietnam worse than they can imagine.”
Maduro has accused the U.S. of attempting to stage a coup against his government. Speculation that Trump may be preparing to send troops to Venezuela was fueled this week after National Security Adviser John Bolton was seen holding a notepad that read: “5,000 troops to Colombia.” Colombia borders Venezuela.
More than 58,000 Americans and 4 million Vietnamese were killed in the Vietnam War. The second longest war in American history was an expensive and divisive conflict the U.S. entered incrementally from 1955 to 1973 on the side of South Vietnam against Communist North Vietnam. The longest U.S. war is in Afghanistan.
Maduro’s comments on social media came as thousands of Venezuelans marched late Wednesday in opposition to his regime and in support of Juan Guaido, a charismatic 35-year-old who heads the opposition. Guaido is an industrial engineer by training and has little governance experience but he has won the backing of many Venezuelans, and Trump and some U.S. allies, for his stated commitment to fighting corruption and revitalizing the oil-rich country’s troubled six-decade-old relationship with democracy.
Guaido has vowed to end the “usurpation,” a reference to moves by Maduro to accumulate executive power that has weakened Venezuela’s courts, undermined its legislative assembly and brought allegations of gross human-rights abuses.
Trump spoke with Guaido by phone Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said. They “agreed to maintain regular communication to support Venezuela’s path back to stability, and to rebuild the bilateral relationship between the United States and Venezuela,” Sanders said. It was an allusion to Maduro but also to the diplomatic tensions that began under his predecessor Hugo Chávez.
The socialist leader assailed U.S. influence in Latin America in his campaign against capitalism and democratic freedoms. It was under Chávez that Venezuela’s economic woes intensified. Chavez impoverished Venezuela by expropriating the country’s private wealth, especially its oil money, and attempting to redistribute it to the poor. But Chávez’s populist policies were staggeringly mismanaged.
Venezuela now has the highest annual inflation rate in the world – more than 100,000 percent – and it is plagued by shortages of essential medicines and food.
In Venezuela’s latest presidential election, a controversial vote which he won in May last year, Maduro barred most opposition candidates from running.
The Venezuelan Program for Education-Action in Human Rights, a humanitarian group, alleges that at least 40 people have been killed by paramilitary groups linked to Maduro’s government since protests started this month. The U.S. imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s state-run oil company, PVDSA, on Monday, and Bolton has said that as far as Washington is concerned “all options are on the table” to resolve the crisis.
About 20 countries have joined the U.S. in recognizing Guaido’s leadership, although the European Union, a 28-nation political bloc, has held out. Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said the EU “will take further actions” if Maduro does not hold a presidential election in the next few days. These actions would likely be sanctions.
China, Russia and Turkey have stood by Maduro.
Vice President Mike Pence is expected in Miami on Friday to meet with members of the Venezuelan exile community and to give a speech backing Guaido.
Still, Carlos Vecchio, a Venezuelan envoy to the U.S. who works with Guaido, told reporters in Washington that his transitional government has not spoken with anyone from the Trump administration about military intervention. And in an article published in The New York Times, Guaido said that he has held secret meetings with members of Venezuela’s own military to discuss the possibility of ousting Maduro.
Continuing support from Venezuela’s security forces may be key to Maduro’s survival.
“The military’s withdrawal of support from Mr Maduro is crucial to enabling a change in government, and the majority of those in service agree that the country’s recent travails are untenable,” Guaido wrote in The Times opinion piece published Wednesday.
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