Venezuela’s Guaido says 600 military officers have abandoned Maduro

Venezuela’s National Assembly head and self-proclaimed ‘acting president’ Juan Guaido at the National Assembly in Caracas. (Reuters pic)

ASUNCION: Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, visiting Paraguay on Friday to raise support for a change of government in his country, said that 600 members of the military had abandoned the government of President Nicolas Maduro in recent days.

Guaido, head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, has invoked constitutional provisions to assume an interim presidency, arguing that Maduro’s re-election last year was fraudulent. Guaido has since been recognised by most Western nations as the rightful leader of Venezuela.

However, Maduro still retains the loyalty of the bulk of Venezuela’s armed forces and controls state institutions.

“In the next few hours we will announce new protest marches,” Guaido said in Asuncion at a news conference, after meeting with Paraguayan leader Mario Abdo, who received the opposition figure as a head of state.

“We have spoken clearly to the Armed Forces of Venezuela. They have seen more than 600 officers in recent days switch to side with the constitution,” he added. “There is a very clear process of transition to democracy.”

His press team said he was scheduled to go to Argentina later on Friday to meet with President Mauricio Macri, a strong critic of Maduro. In a speech earlier on Friday, Macri said his government was playing a regional role “to condemn human rights violations in Venezuela and recognise the president in charge, Juan Guaido.”

Argentina’s foreign ministry confirmed the two would meet in Buenos Aires and that Guaido would hold a news conference.

Guaido has been travelling around the region, seeking to drum up support. He has visited Brazil and Colombia this week but said he would return to Caracas by Monday, where he faces possible arrest for disobeying a Supreme Court order that he should not leave the country pending an investigation.

The United States, which backs Guaido, has imposed fresh sanctions on six Venezuelan security officials and revoked the visas of dozens of associates and their families with ties to Maduro, it said on Friday.