Clashes broke out between police and protesters near an air force base in Caracas today, after Opposition Leader Juan Guaido posted a video online, calling for a military uprising. He claimed the time has come for citizens to take to the streets, in order to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro.
“When the international community broadly supported our fight, we would be with the people of Venezuela,” Guaido said. “At this moment we make a great call to public employees, and to a fundamental component not only for the transition but for the reconstruction of Venezuela, to recover national sovereignty.”
In addition to armed soldiers, Guaido was joined by a former anti-government activist who was arrested in 2014. While he has been on house arrest since 2017, he told reporters that he is now free, thanks to members of Venezuela’s military who have turned against Maduro.
Protesters gathered in the streets near the air force base, where some were seen throwing rocks at police, and the police responded with tear gas. One journalist on the ground reported that tear gas was also fired towards Guaido, who was surrounded by around 70 young armed men, dressed in military uniforms. Reports also noted that two hours after Guaido tweeted his initial call for an uprising, there were no other signs of military activity.
The elected government was quick to dismiss the protests, and Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said the armed forces remain “firmly in defense of the national constitution and legitimate authorities,” and that all military units across Venezuela “report normality” in their barracks and bases.
Padrino argued that Venezuela’s military “rejects this coup movement that aims to fill the country with violence.” He also condemned Guaido and his supporters for using “troops and police with weapons of war on a public road in the city to create anxiety and terror.”
Maduro also released a statement, saying that he has spoken to all of Venezuela’s senior military officers, and they assured him of their “total loyalty.”
As Guaido promised that a military uprising would spark what he called “the final phase of Operation Freedom,” he was cheered on by his most loyal supporters.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio promised the people of Venezuela that they would achieve freedom if they take to the streets. He warned that they should not let this moment slip away, because it may not come again.
But while politicians argue over the future of Venezuela, the citizens are the ones who are suffering from a lack of basic resources, increased inflation, and economic sanctions. According to the UN Children’s Fund, there are more than 327,000 children from Venezuela who are currently living as migrants and refugees in Colombia.
The Venezuelan government has threatened Guaido with arrest and legislators stripped his immunity earlier this month. So, it remains to be seen if the clashes will continue, and if the Maduro government will arrest the opposition leader who has the full support of the U.S. and its allies.