Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claims that embattled Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro was planning to flee the country amid a violent coup attempt that began Tuesday morning, but was convinced to cling to power by Russian authorities, who continue to support his socialist regime.
“It’s been a long time since anyone has seen Maduro. He had an airplane on the tarmac, he was ready to leave this morning as we understand it and the Russians indicated he should stay,” Pompeo told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “We think the situation remains incredibly fluid. We know that there were senior leaders inside the Maduro government that were prepared to leave. They told us as much over the past few weeks and we’re convinced that the Venezuelan people are going to get their democracy back.”
Pompeo, who expressed the Trump administration’s enthusiastic support for the anti-government protesters Tuesday morning, said Maduro initially planned to flee his home country to Cuba, where he enjoys support for the communist government.
“We’ve made clear all along, Wolf, that Maduro is surrounded by Cubans and has been supported by Russians there in Venezuela. And we’ve told the Russians and we’ve told the Cubans, ‘that’s unacceptable.’ It’s unacceptable to starve people, it’s unacceptable to not allow sick children to get their medicine,” he said.
White House national security adviser John Bolton also cautioned Russia against continuing to provide economic and military aid to Maduro’s forces in comments to reporters on Tuesday.
“We’ve made it clear to Russia in both public and private statements . . . that we regard the actions they’ve taken in Venezuela as something we regard with the utmost seriousness” Bolton said.
Bolton and Pompeo were joined in their condemnation by Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), who said the U.S. would hold Russia and Cuba “accountable” if any harm comes to Guaido.
“Anything that happens to Guaidó, by the Maduro government, we hold you accountable,” Graham told reporters Tuesday. “Maduro would be gone a long time ago if it weren’t for the Russians, and we need to make a very firm statement that Maduro is going to go, and that I’m glad we’re behind this uprising. But we need to put Cuba and Russia on notice that if any violence is directed toward Guaidó to try to arrest him or kill him, then we’re going to hold Russia and Cuba liable, and we will respond appropriately, and all options are on the table.”
The Kremlin, meanwhile, has blamed the anti-government protesters led by Guaido for the violence and disorder that seized the country on Tuesday.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido, who was elected interim president by the country’s National Assembly earlier this year, called on his supporters to take to the streets Tuesday to protest the starvation and poverty that have taken root under Maduro’s socialist regime.
The call to action prompted violent clashes between protesters and pro-government forces who, in at least one instance, used an armored vehicle to run down unarmed Guaido loyalists in the streets of Caracas.