The leader of Venezuela’s opposition, Juan Guaido, on Tuesday declared “the start of the end of the usurpation,” in a dawn address in which he was flanked by men in military fatigues and armored vehicles in the capital Caracas, CNN reported.
Guaido has led months of protest against the Maduro government, yet Tuesday marked his boldest attempt yet to involve the military in the removal of the Venezuelan president. In the video, broadcast on his social media account, another key opposition figure, Leopoldo Lopez, appeared to be present.
Lopez is currently under house arrest, and it was unclear how he had evaded custody to take part in the video, which Guaido said was filmed in a military airbase, La Carlota.
Guaido has called for nationwide demonstrations on May 1, and said his announcement signaled the start of that protest a day early.
“The people of Venezuela initiated the end of the usurpation. At this moment I am meeting with the main military units of our Armed Forces, beginning the final phase of Operation Freedom,” he tweeted.
Minutes after the video was shared, the Venezuelan government said it would be putting down a small coup attempt by military “traitors” working with the opposition, Fox News informed.
Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez on Twitter called on Venezuelan citizens to remain on high alert, alongside the “glorious Bolivarian National armed forces, to defeat the coup attempt and preserve the peace.”
“We will win,” he wrote in Spanish.
Tear gas was fired at a highway overpass near the Caracas air base where Guaido and several heavily armed soldiers with blue bands wrapped around their forearms had been standing guard. The tear gas appeared to have been fired from inside the Carlota air base.
But more people gathered as they sensed what could be their strongest opportunity yet to overthrow the government.
“It’s now or never,” said one of the young soldiers, his face covered in the blue bandanna preferred by the few dozen soldiers who stood alongside Guaido and Lopez.
In a phone call to state TV, socialist party boss, Diosdado Cabello, downplayed the significance of the rebellion, saying Caracas is in complete calm. He then called on government supporters to amass at the presidential palace to defend Maduro.
Local reports said soldiers still supporting Maduro were bolstering security at the presidential palace of Miraflores.
Guaido, leader of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly, invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency in January, triggering a power struggle with Maduro. He has the support from about 50 countries, including the United States and several European nations, who have disavowed Maduro’s presidency.