‘Military action is possible’ in Venezuela, says Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that U.S. military action “is possible” in Venezuela to bolster opposition leader Juan Guaido’s bid to oust President Nicolas Maduro. 

“The president has been crystal clear and incredibly consistent – military action is possible, if that’s what’s required – that’s what the United States will do,” Pompeo told FOX Business on Wednesday.

Pompeo’s remarks appeared to mark an escalation of the Trump administration’s rhetoric on Venezuela. Pompeo and other officials, including President Donald Trump, have said that “all options are on the table” but focused mostly on economic sanctions and other diplomatic tools. 

“We are trying to do everything we can to avoid violence,” Pompeo told FOX. “… We’d prefer a peaceful transition of government there where Maduro leaves and a new election is held.”

Pompeo on Tuesday said Maduro was ready to flee Venezuela but changed his mind after Russia persuaded him to stay. 

“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 on Tuesday evening. He said Maduro was headed to Cuba, a close ally of the socialist leader. 

Maduro and Russian officials flatly denied Pompeo’s account.  “Mr. Pompeo, please, what lack of seriousness,” Maduro said during a televised meeting. 

Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, told reporters at the White House Wednesday that Maduro would fall “by midnight” if not for the support of as many as 25,000 Cuban soldiers in Venezuela propping him up. 

” … if this afternoon 20-25,000 Cubans left Venezuela, I think Maduro would fall by midnight,” Bolton said. “It’s this foreign presence that sits on top of the military, sits on top of the government, that makes it impossible for the people’s voice to be heard.”

Bolton also said that several top officials in Maduro’s regime, including his defense minister, Vladimir Padrino López, were in talks with the opposition and had planned to abandon the socialist leader. He said those officials failed to make good on that move but they remain possible defectors.

“I think Maduro is now surrounded by scorpions in a bottle and it’s only a matter of time,” Bolton predicted. 

The stepped-up U.S. pressure comes a day after opposition leader Juan Guaido called for a popular uprising and claimed the support of the military. In a video message on Tuesday, Guaido said he began the “final phase” of his plan to oust Maduro, and he called on the military to support him in his bid to end Maduro’s “usurpation.”

An anti-government protester walks near a bus that was set on fire by opponents of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro during clashes between rebel and loyalist soldiers in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, April 30, 2019. Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó took to the streets with a small contingent of heavily armed troops early Tuesday in a bold and risky call for the military to rise up and oust Maduro. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano) (Photo: Fernando Llano, AP)

“The moment is now,” Guaido said in the three-minute video made at a Caracas air base, where he was surrounded by soldiers and accompanied by activist Leopoldo Lopez, his political mentor. 

So far, only one high-ranking officer and a small group of soldiers have broken publicly with Maduro, according to the Associated Press.

But the situation remained fluid on Wednesday, as Guaido urged Venezuelans take to the streets for new mass protests.

Guaido has staunch support from the Trump administration in his bid to oust Maduro, and top U.S. officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, voiced support for Guaido’s move to oust Maduro. 

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