World Politics

'There's no turning back': Venezuela's Guaido remains defiant after failed attempt to recruit military

Key Points
  • "There's no turning back," Juan Guaido, opposition leader, said as he addressed thousands of supporters on the streets of Caracas on Wednesday.
  • Maduro has accused protesters of "serious crimes" that would "not go unpunished." He also repeated claims that the U.S. was plotting a coup against him.
  • The United Nations has called on all sides to show "maximum restraint."
01 May 2019, Venezuela, Caracas: Demonstrators critical of the government clash with the security forces of the state. After the last conflict-laden days, interim president Guaido, with the support of his supporters, wants to continue exerting pressure on head of state Maduro.
Rafael Hernandez | picture alliance via Getty Images

Venezuelan opposition supporters gathered for a second day of mass protests against embattled President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after violent clashes with pro-government forces.

"There's no turning back," Juan Guaido, opposition leader, said as he addressed thousands of supporters on the streets of Caracas on Wednesday.

The leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly described the latest wave of anti-government demonstrations as an "irreversible process" and promised to continue protesting every day in order to "achieve freedom."

Pro-government demonstrations took place at the same time, with rival groups both seeking to project strength at May Day rallies.

Maduro has accused protesters of "serious crimes" that would "not go unpunished." He also repeated claims that the U.S. was plotting a coup against him.

It comes at a time when tensions in Venezuela are reaching boiling point, with the South American country in the midst of one of the Western Hemisphere's worst humanitarian crises in recent memory.

Maximum restraint

Guaido declared himself Venezuela's rightful interim president in January and has since been recognized by more than 50 countries, including the U.S. and most Latin American and European countries.

But, Maduro has refused to cede power and, crucially, he still has the support of the military.

The protracted political stand-off has thrust the oil-rich, but cash-poor, country into uncharted territory — whereby it now has an internationally-recognized government, with no control over state functions, running parallel to Maduro's regime.

VIDEO6:1606:16
Venezuela's Juan Guaidó is going up against Maduro's regime

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said military action in Venezuela was "possible" if necessary, but the U.S. would prefer to negotiate a peaceful transition of power.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned President Donald Trump's administration not to take any "aggressive" steps.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has called on all sides to show "maximum restraint."

Operation Freedom

Guaido said via Twitter on Wednesday that the "final phase" of what he called 'Operation Freedom' had started with millions of Venezuelans on the street, a weakened regime, strong international support and communication with military officials.

Speaking to supporters in the capital city on the same day, Guaido said a series of staggered strikes would start from Thursday — eventually culminating in a nationwide general strike.

"Guaido is trying to spark an escalation of protests to try to bring on board those members of the armed forces that are still aligned to Maduro," Diego Moya-Ocampos, principal political analyst for Latin America at IHS Markit, told CNBC via telephone on Wednesday.

"He is trying to invite the top military commands to join his struggle against Maduro to restore democracy and constitutional order in the country," he added.

On Tuesday, Guaido posted a video showing him alongside a several men in military uniform saying he had the support of "brave" soldiers in Caracas.

He urged his supporters to join him on the streets, sparking clashes between thousands of anti-government protesters and forces loyal to Maduro.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who many nations have recognised as the country's rightful interim ruler, gestures as he speaks to supporters during a rally against the government of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro and to commemorate May Day in Caracas Venezuela, May 1, 2019.
REUTERS | Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Moya-Ocampos said it was important for external observers to remember that some top military commanders remained highly involved in illicit activities.

They are especially fearful a regime change could see them held accountable for any involvement in corruption or gross human rights violations. Therefore, Moya-Ocampos said it would be "essential" for Guaido to show those considering whether to switch allegiance that he has the authority to provide them with any necessary guarantees.  

Social, economic and security situation will remain 'dire'

Pressure is building on Maduro to step down.

The socialist leader has overseen a long economic meltdown, marked by hyperinflation, mounting U.S. sanctions and collapsing oil production.

As a result, some three million Venezuelans have fled abroad over the past five years to escape worsening living conditions.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro takes part in a video conference with members of the military in Caracas, Venezuela February 21, 2019.
Miraflores Palace | Handout via REUTERS

"For citizens and businesses alike, the domestic social, economic and security situation will remain dire, and a continued overspill into neighboring countries, particularly Colombia, is certain," Eileen Gavin, senior politics analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, said in a research note published Wednesday.

"The key challenge is going to be that the stronger the protests, the stronger the repression," IHS' Moya-Ocampos said.