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Venezuelan opposition leader seeks contact with US military

National Assembly Vice President Edgar Zambrano, rear, looks on as opposition leader Juan Guaido addresses a meeting of the Venezuelan National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela, on March 6, 2019. (Valery Sharifulin/TASS/Abaca Press/TNS)

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido told an emissary to meet with U.S. military officials in a bid to establish “direct” cooperation, a signal he’s warming to the idea of intervention by force after months of failed attempts to topple President Nicolas Maduro.

Guaido told supporters during a rally in Caracas on Saturday that he’s sending his envoy in Washington, Carlos Vecchio, to meet immediately with Florida-based Southern Command, which oversees U.S. military activity in Latin America and the Caribbean, “to be able to establish a direct and far-reaching relationship in terms of cooperation.”

Admiral Craig Faller, the head of Southern Command, said on Twitter this week he was open to meeting with Guaido and what he termed the “legitimate” government of Venezuela.

“I look forward to discussing how we can support the future role of those @ArmadaFANB leaders who make the right decision, put the Venezuela people first & restore constitutional order,” Faller said in the tweet, referring to the Venezuelan armed forces.

Guaido has thus far stopped short of openly calling for an invasion, though he’s increasingly floated the idea as an option as the opposition faces an aggressive crackdown from the Maduro regime.

On Friday, he told Italy’s La Stampa newspaper he “would probably accept” an intervention if the U.S. proposed it. While the Trump administration has said all options “are on the table,” neighboring Latin American countries have repeatedly rejected the idea of military intervention by Washington, and there’s no indication the U.S. is preparing to send troops.

The 35-year-old Guaido in January launched an interim government by invoking Venezuela’s constitution after Maduro began another six-year term following 2018 elections widely regarded as rigged. The head of the National Assembly has since won the recognition of more than 50 countries.

Yet, the opposition has repeatedly failed to generate enough support, especially from within the military, to topple Maduro, an autocrat who’s overseen an historic economic collapse that has forced millions of residents to flee.

Maduro has cracked down on Guaido’s supporters since a failed coup attempt on April 30. This week, the Sebin secret police jailed the National Assembly’s Vice President Edgar Zambrano, 10 lawmakers were stripped of their immunity from prosecution, and others have taken refuge in embassies or have gone into hiding.

Against that backdrop, Guaido’s calls for major street demonstrations Saturday in response drew meager crowds.

Facing intense international pressure and increasingly tight economic sanctions, Maduro has warned of U.S. intervention. The government said that the U.S. is “promoting, organizing, and financing” a series of actions designed “to produce a change of government by force,” state-backed Telesur TV reported Saturday.


© 2019 Bloomberg News

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.