- Miguel Tinker Salasprofessor at Pomona College, author of The Enduring Legacy: Oil, Culture, and Society in Venezuela and Venezuela: What Everyone Needs to Know.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is claiming to have defeated a coup attempt launched by opposition leader Juan Guaidó, the president of the Venezuelan National Assembly. On Tuesday morning, Guaidó appeared in an online video standing among heavily armed soldiers, calling for the military to back what he called the “final phase” of an effort to topple Maduro’s government. Guiadó appeared alongside Leopoldo López, a longtime opposition leader, who was reportedly released from house arrest by renegade officers. Guaidó has been attempting to topple the Venezuelan government since January, when he declared himself to be Venezuela’s interim president. The Trump administration, as well as Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and others, openly supported the coup attempt. Earlier today, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox Business that military action in Venezuela is possible, “if that’s what is required.” We speak to Miguel Tinker Salas, Venezuelan historian and professor at Pomona College.
AMY GOODMAN: Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is claiming to have defeated a coup attempt launched by opposition leader Juan Guaidó, the president of the Venezuelan National Assembly. On Tuesday morning, Guaidó appeared in an online video standing among heavily armed soldiers, calling for the military to back what he called the “final phase” of an effort to topple Maduro’s government. Guaidó appeared alongside Leopoldo López, a longtime opposition leader, who was reportedly released from house arrest by renegade officers. Guaidó has been attempting to topple the Venezuelan government since January, when he declared himself to be Venezuela’s interim president.
The Trump administration, as well as Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and others, openly supported the coup attempt. Earlier today, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox Business military action in Venezuela is possible, quote, “if that’s what is required.”
On Tuesday, clashes broke out in the streets of Caracas and other cities. There are reports that one person has died and a hundred people were injured. On Tuesday night, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro gave a televised address and denied claims by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that he had prepared to flee Venezuela.
PRESIDENT NICOLÁS MADURO: [translated] Mike Pompeo said in the afternoon that Maduro had a plane to flee to Cuba and that the Russians got him off the plane and forbade him from leaving the country. Mr. Pompeo, what a lack of sincerity! Mr. Bolton also gave orders to military and civilian personnel in Venezuela to join the coup. The skirmish in Venezuela has been defeated, and Mr. Trump set off a thousand expletives and lies. My god, how far are the men in the United States government willing to go?
AMY GOODMAN: Maduro and Guaidó have both called on supporters to take to the streets today. At the United Nations, Venezuela’s U.N. Ambassador Samuel Moncada accused the United States and other nations of backing the coup attempt.
SAMUEL MONCADA: [translated] This was not a domestic event growing from within. No, this came from abroad. Without the power of the United States, the CIA, with the intelligence apparatus, without the money from the United States, without the economic war, without the government of President Duque in Colombia, this would have been impossible, without the help of the government of Chile, which gives protection to the leader of the coup, without the help of the Brazilian president, Mr. Bolsonaro, who gives help to the soldiers. This is an international conspiracy.
AMY GOODMAN: In Washington, national security adviser John Bolton repeated the Trump administration’s position on Venezuela, saying all options are on the table. He also insisted Tuesday’s events were not a coup.
JOHN BOLTON: We want, as our principal objective, the peaceful transfer of power. But I will say again, as the president has said from the outset, and that Nicolás Maduro and those supporting him, particularly those who are not Venezuelans, should know, is all options are on the table. … This is clearly not a coup. We recognize Juan Guaidó as the legitimate interim president of Venezuela. And just as it’s not a coup when the president of the United States gives an order to the Department of Defense, it’s not a coup for Juan Guaidó to try and take command of the Venezuelan military.
AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the situation, we’re joined by two guests. Miguel Tinker Salas is a Venezuelan historian and professor at Pomona College in California, author of The Enduring Legacy: Oil, Culture, and Society in Venezuela and Venezuela: What Everyone Needs to Know. He’s joining us from Claremont, California. And here in New York, Jeffrey Sachs, leading economist and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, is with us. He recently co-authored a report for the Center for Economic and Policy Research on the deadly impact of the U.S. sanctions on Venezuela. The center is estimating more than 40,000 Venezuelans have died since 2017 as a result of the sanctions.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Professor Miguel Tinker Salas, let’s begin with you. What do you understand is happening on the ground right now in Venezuela? What has taken place? And the significance of Juan Guaidó standing together with Leopoldo López?
MIGUEL TINKER SALAS: What took place yesterday was an intended coup. The problem is, if you’re going to stage a coup, you normally would have the generals and the admirals standing at your side. So, obviously that didn’t happen. So it was an attempt on the part of Guaidó and López and his faction within the right-wing opposition to try to create greater divisions within the military. It was obviously that he did not have that support. What had happened was, they had a handful of lower-ranking officers from the National Guard. They had one general from the military intelligence service. But they did not have the core within the Army or the Navy or the Air Force. They tried to leverage that. It failed. It failed miserably. And here we are, once again, with a crisis scenario in Venezuela.
But again, there’s two audiences here. One is an audience internal to Venezuela to assure Guaidó’s support and consolidate his support within the opposition, which was beginning to seem shaky. And the other is the audience internationally, appealing to Donald Trump, appealing to Pompeo, appealing to Iván Duque, appealing to Bolsonaro. So there’s two audiences that Guaidó was directed at yesterday. The internal one failed.
And today we have protest on both sides for March 1st, which again could repeat a cycle of violence. The expectation is that they will be separate marches and hopefully peaceful marches.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Mike Pompeo. This is in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was asked what the U.S. would do if Maduro arrests Guaidó, and also asked about Russia’s role in keeping Maduro in the country.
SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: I’m not going to get into specifics, but we have made very clear we would consider that a major escalation. Wolf, we’ve watched throughout the day. It’s been a long time since anyone has seen Maduro. He had an airplane on the tarmac. He was ready to leave this morning, as we understand it. And the Russians indicated he should stay. … We have made clear all along, Wolf, that Maduro is surrounded by Cubans and has been supported by Russians there in Venezuela. And we’ve told the Russians and we’ve told the Cubans that’s unacceptable.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Mike Pompeo, Miguel Tinker Salas, saying that Maduro was ready to leave with a plane on the tarmac to fly to Cuba, but got a call from Russia and so he stayed. Is this fake news?
MIGUEL TINKER SALAS: It’s a false flag operation. Why would Maduro want to leave the country, when, by all accounts, the so-called coup had already failed?
But, yes, there is a side note to that. And that is that Guaidó has tried to provoke Maduro, trying to provoke a crisis, because under these conditions, anyone leading a coup committed an illegal act. So what Guaidó would like is Maduro to arrest him, to provoke a crisis, to escalate the scenario, and therefore create the context in which the U.S. can operate either through direct action, through a naval blockade, or through action by the part of Colombia or Brazil.
So, as I said earlier, this is an effort to provoke this crisis, to try to escalate it, because we’ve already had three separate incidents previously. Guaidó claimed he would be president on January 23rd. He wasn’t; it failed. He claimed that on February 23rd, from the border in Cúcuta, he would re-enter the country, assume the presidency. It failed. So, once again, we have Guaidó claiming that he will assume the presidency. This time it appears to have failed, as well.
And, in fact, there are criticisms within the opposition to his all-or-nothing strategy. There has to be a reflective period for the opposition to think of what they’ve done and to really consider the option, again, once again, of negotiations, rather than this idea that through military action they’re going to come to power.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about where in Caracas this coup attempt took place? And who exactly you—
MIGUEL TINKER SALAS: The coup—
AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.
MIGUEL TINKER SALAS: The coup took place in the center of Caracas, what’s called eastern Caracas, in the Altamira corridor, the Altamira district, which has been historically the center of the opposition’s base—in Chacao, in Altamira, in Palos Grandes. They attempted to move down towards La Carlota, the air base that resides in the middle of Caracas.
Some of the military personnel that were present said they were tricked. They were told to show up to receive a medal, to receive a decoration, and they were brought to Guaidó’s side, again, by a certain number of captains and colonels of the National Guard. That’s important, because they don’t represent the core of the military. There were several lieutenants and several colonels present from intelligence, from the National Guard, but, again, not the general staff of the military, not those individuals that command bases, not those individuals that command regiments or battalions. And that was the most important thing.
But, again, what we saw was a repeat of a series of actions that have been led by Guaidó and his opposition trying to topple the government, which for the moment have seemed to fail again, and basically in the core area of support, which is the east part of Caracas.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to our discussion, and in addition to historian Miguel Tinker Salas, we’ll be joined by leading economist Jeffrey Sachs. Stay with us.