MARACAY, VENEZUELA — This Tuesday, Caracas and the rest of Venezuela woke up in shock. At 5:30 am at the La Carlota Air Base, located on the east side of the country’s capital, Juan Guaidó —speaker of the opposition-led National Assembly, who shook the hemisphere by declaring President Nicolás Maduro’s rule as illegitimate— appeared with National Guard personnel, inviting Venezuelans to take the streets and declaring that “the definitive cease of the usurpation started today.”
Unsure and confused, some people gathered in public squares of cities and towns to what has been dubbed “Operation Freedom,” as many others preferred to remain safe at home while things cleared up. Whatever happens, many expect this to be the resolution to what started on January 23 when, after the legislature declared the presidency as vacant due to electoral irregularities, Guaidó assumed the position of interim president, until elections could be called.
With the support of 18 members of the Organization of the American States and the European Parliament, Guaidó’s claim gained momentum, particularly with his rallying point on having the government accept humanitarian aid. After a disastrous incident on the Venezuelan-Colombian border, many felt Guaidó was losing steam, particularly after the government begrudgingly accepted aid through the Red Cross.
As “Operation Freedom” went on, soon there were reports of YouTube, Twitter and other social media slowed down or momentarily blocked, while most television channels continued their regular morning programming or waited on the scant statements offered by Maduro’s government officials, such as Information Minister Jorge Rodríguez:
Informamos al pueblo de Venezuela que en estos momentos estamos enfrentando y desactivando a un reducido grupo de efectivos militares traidores que se posicionaron en el Distribuidor Altamira para promover un Golpe de Estado contra la Constitución y la paz de la República… 1/2
— Jorge Rodríguez (@jorgerpsuv) April 30, 2019
Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López was quick to highlight the loyalty of the Armed Forces and denounce the recklessness of those involved.
La FANB se mantiene firme en defensa de la Constitución Nacional y sus autoridades legítimas. Todas las unidades militares desplegadas en las ocho Regiones de Defensa Integral reportan normalidad en sus cuarteles y bases militares, bajo el mando de sus comandantes naturales.
— Vladimir Padrino L. (@vladimirpadrino) April 30, 2019
Speaker of the National Constituent Assembly Diosdado Cabello called on Venezuelans to rally at the Miraflores Presidential Palace and show their support for Maduro.
Diosdado Cabello, presidente de la Asamblea Nacional Constituyente, solicitó a las fuerzas revolucionarias que se dirijan al Palacio de Miraflores en apoyo de Nicolás Maduro @dcabellor pic.twitter.com/e6hvrDks0u
— RT en Español (@ActualidadRT) April 30, 2019
The big elephant in the room was Maduro himself, who didn’t publicly address the country until Tuesday evening, claiming the Armed Forces personnel that was with Guaidó went to La Carlota under false pretenses and represented a minimal and isolated group.
— Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) May 1, 2019
Maduro also named a new director of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Services, replacing General Manuel Ricardo Figuera, who has been reported as one of the military officials backing Guaidó’s actions. Several outlets circulated a communiqué supposedly authored by Figuera, reaffirming his loyalty to Hugo Chávez but also his disappointment with Maduro’s government.
Outside of Venezuela, the Lima Group, the bloc of 18 member states of the Organization of American States opposing the Maduro government, called for an emergency meeting next Friday. A statement was already released where some of its members, including Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and Peru, declared their support of Guaidó and rejected that his lastest act should be labeled a coup.
Members of the U.S. government were quick to rally their support to Guaidó and “Operation Freedom.”
To @jguaido, the National Assembly and all the freedom-loving people of Venezuela who are taking to the streets today in #operacionlibertad—Estamos con ustedes! We are with you! America will stand with you until freedom & democracy are restored. Vayan con dios! #FreeVenezuela
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) April 30, 2019
Today interim President Juan Guaido announced start of Operación Libertad. The U.S. Government fully supports the Venezuelan people in their quest for freedom and democracy. Democracy cannot be defeated. #EstamosUnidosVE
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) April 30, 2019
El fin de la usurpación de poder de Maduro es posible. Las fuerzas armadas de Venezuela deben mantener la lealtad a su pueblo y la constitución. La democracia será restaurada en Venezuela. https://t.co/zYumvRRdYV
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) April 30, 2019
After years of suffering freedom is waiting for people of #Venezuela. Do not let them take this opportunity from you.
Now is the moment to take to the streets in support of your legitimate constitutional government.
Do not allow this moment to slip away. It may not come again
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) April 30, 2019
Colombia’s Radio Caracol also reported that U.S. general Van McCarty was in Colombia to analyze the situation with the Venezuelan border. The U.S. embassy in Bogotá stated that McCarty’s visit had been scheduled months in advance.
After some skirmishes outside La Carlota base, Guaidó, the military personnel and hundreds of protesters went north to the upscale district of Altamira and gathered in the main square, which has become iconic for the opposition.
With them was Leopoldo López, who was under house arrest and declared to have been released by pro-Guaidó intelligence officers. López was sentenced for 13 years in 2015 due to the 2014 protests in a process that has been criticized as politically motivated. It has been reported he’s currently taking refuge in the Spanish embassy.
Guaidó announced to his followers that they should continue in the streets until the end of the usurpation while as early as noon, Maduro’s government reported on state media that the uprising had been stopped. At the same time, it has been reported that CNN and BBC have been blocked in Venezuela and a nationwide radio network has been shut down.
According to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Maduro and his crew were ready to abandon the country when they were persuaded in the last minute by the Russian government to hold their position.
Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, referred to Venezuela’s situation, saying that “If Washington continues to try to interfere in internal affairs, it could bring a collapse scenario.” Russian military presence in Venezuela has been a point of contention in the past weeks.
Also, U.S. president Donald Trump warned about imposing “a full and complete embargo” to Cuba if its government doesn’t cease operations within Venezuela.
….embargo, together with highest-level sanctions, will be placed on the island of Cuba. Hopefully, all Cuban soldiers will promptly and peacefully return to their island!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 30, 2019
It remains to be seen what repercussions will bring what happened in La Carlota Air Base. What is true is that while this could signal a downturn for Juan Guaidó, but it’s not the first time in the past few months where Venezuelans think they have seen the last of him.
José González Vargas is a Venezuelan journalist who has written for several outlets, including Latino USA, Latino Rebels, Caracas Chronicles and Into. He tweets from @Maxmordon.