Venezuela’s Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez says the government is confronting a small group of “military traitors” that are seeking to promote a coup against President Nicolas Maduro.
“We are currently facing and deactivating a small group of treacherous military personnel who took positions in the Altamira distributor road (in Caracas) to promote a coup d’etat,” said Rodriguez in a Twitter post on Tuesday.
Venezuela has been in political turmoil since US-backed opposition figure Juan Guaido declared himself “interim president” late in January.
The administration of US President Donald Trump, which immediately recognized Guaido’s self-proclamation, has since been mounting economic pressure on Caracas and has repeatedly threatened to use military force to topple Maduro’s government.
Washington has also confiscated Venezuela’s US-based oil assets in an attempt to channel revenue from them to Guaido.
Rodriguez’s tweet came a few hours after 35-year-old Guaido, standing near the La Carlota air force base in capital Caracas surrounded by a group of some 70 armed men in uniform, called for military units to support him in the “final phase” of a plan to end Maduro’s “usurpation” of power.
Guaido claimed that government troops “answered our call” in coming under his command to oust the incumbent president.
Rodriguez, however, vowed that the government would put down US-backed Guaido’s attempted coup, calling on the Venezuelans to be on full alert.
“We call on the people to remain on maximum alert to — with our glorious National Bolivarian Armed Forces — defeat the attempted coup and preserve peace,” he said.
Separately, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino, in a series of tweets, stressed that that the National Bolivarian Armed Forces of Venezuela remained “firmly in defense” of the “legitimate” government of President Maduro.
Padrino emphasized that all military units across the South American country had reported “normality” in their barracks and military bases.
‘Total loyalty’ to Maduro
President Maduro also tweeted on Tuesday, saying that he had spoken with the army leaders and they had shown him “their total loyalty.”
“Nerves of steel! I call for maximum popular mobilization to assure the victory of peace. We will win!” he added.
US supports coup bid
Later on Tuesday, US National Security Adviser John Bolton appeared to be supporting Guaido’s so-called coup bid, calling on the Venezuela’s armed forces to “protect” the people, to “stand” by opposition leader, and to work against the Maduro’s administration. “The United States stands with the people of Venezuela,” he added.
Furthermore, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, for his part, echoed what Bolton had said, stressing that Washington supports the move against Maduro.
“Today interim President Juan Guaido announced start of Operación Libertad. The US government fully supports the Venezuelan people in their quest for freedom and democracy,” he said in a Twitter post.
Shooting at Guaido rally
Reuters, citing its witnesses, reported that gunshots were heard in La Carlota air force base, where Guaido had gathered a group of armed men in uniforms.
The report said that soldiers loyal to Guaido were exchanging fire with troopers acting in support of Maduro, adding that the shots appeared to be live rounds.
There were no immediate reports about possible casualties.
Maduro has repeatedly accused Washington of openly pushing for a coup in the oil-rich Latin American country by confiscating its state oil assets based in the US and channeling them to Guaido.
Caracas has accused Washington of waging an economic war, which has led to hyperinflation and widespread shortages of food and medicine in Venezuela.