The South American country has been in political turmoil over the past weeks. The opposition has been holding widespread anti-government protests, blaming Maduro for an ailing economy, hyperinflation, power cuts, and shortages of basic items, and urging him to resign while branding his re-election in last year’s vote as a sham.
Washington has already expressed its “full support” for the country’s defunct National Assembly as “the only democratically elected institution” and its 35-year-old head Juan Guaido, who has proclaimed himself the “interim president” of Venezuela. The White House has also called on other countries to follow suit in recognizing Guaido as such.
Guaido’s bizarre self-proclamation move on January 23 further deepened the weeks-long unprecedented political turmoil in Venezuela, which is time and again facing a US threat of using military force as an option to oust Maduro, who has the loyalty of the army.
The US-backed opposition figure has also planned to bring in foreign humanitarian aid, including those from the US, from neighboring countries by land and sea on Saturday to allegedly alleviate an economic crisis. However, Caracas says Guaido’s real incentive is to undermine Maduro’s government in a Washington-orchestrated bid to oust him, stressing that the government would not allow the entry of the so-called aid.
In comments broadcast on state TV on Tuesday, Padrino said it was unacceptable for the military to receive threats from US President Donald Trump, stressing that officers and troopers remained “obedient and subordinate” to Maduro.
“They will never accept orders from any foreign government … they will remain deployed and alert along the borders, as our commander in chief has ordered, to avoid any violations of our territory’s integrity,” the Venezuelan defense minister added.
Referring to Guaido, Padrino said, “Those who attempt to be president here in Venezuela … will have to pass over our dead bodies.”
On Monday, Trump reiterated that his administration stood behind Guaido and called on the military to allow humanitarian aid into the country.
Maduro was quick in responding to the US president’s comments, saying what Washington and the Venezuelan opposition call a humanitarian crisis “is nothing but a cover-up for military plans of the Trump government.”
Guaido has strongly urged the armed forces to wash their hands of Maduro, promising them future amnesty, though only a few high-ranking military officials have so far disavowed the incumbent president.
Canada, a number of right-leaning Latin American countries and several EU member states have already recognized Guaido.
However, other countries, including Russia, China, Turkey, and Iran, have expressed support for the elected government in Venezuela and condemned any foreign interference in the sanctions-hit country.
Maduro has repeatedly accused the Trump administration of pushing for a coup d’état in Caracas.
The US has a long record of sponsoring “regime change” campaigns in Venezuela and other countries. In 2002, former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was ousted for two days in a US-backed coup that was ultimately defeated.