Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro has warned US President Donald Trump that he risks staining “his hands with blood” should he pursue military action in the crisis-hit South American nation.
Speaking to Spanish channel LaSexta Sunday, Maduro said that if Trump was in front of him, he would say, “Stop, stop Donald Trump, stop there, you are making mistakes that are going to stain your hands with blood and you will leave the presidency stained with blood.”
Maduro also asked Trump for mutual respect and asked the US President “not to repeat Vietnam in Latin America.” He added rhetorically, “So we have to go through a war to reconsider our relationship and our respect?”
In the same interview, the embattled Venezuelan leader defied an ultimatum from European nations to call a new presidential election, after several nations said they would recognize the US-backed, self-declared interim president Juan Guaido if Maduro did not hold a fresh vote.
Maduro has faced intense pressure since Guaido’s declaration last month, with the US upping sanctions on Venezuela and a number of Washington’s allies recognizing the previously largely unknown opposition leader as the country’s President.
Despite the pressure, however, Maduro showed no signs of slipping, and the opposition has appeared at times to be on the back foot.
On Sunday, Guaido called on the Venezuelan military – which has so far been loyal to the government – to permit aid into the country from neighboring Colombia and Brazil, both of which are run by right-wing governments critical of Maduro.
The Venezuelan government fears aid crossing the border could be used as cover for an invasion to depose Maduro.
In a taped interview with CBS aired Sunday, Trump said he had rejected talks with Maduro, “because so many really horrible things have been happening in Venezuela when you look at that country.”
When asked whether US military action remains an option in Venezuela, Trump said, “Well, I don’t want to say that, but certainly it’s something that on the – it’s an option,” according to the transcript of the interview.
Guaido has also refused to rule out accepting US military support to take power. There was alarm last week when Trump’s senior adviser John Bolton was seen holding notes reading “5000 troops to Colombia.”
Key to power
The Venezuelan military is seen as key to ending the ongoing power struggle.
In an on-camera statement published online Saturday, a man identifying himself as Gen. Esteban Yanez Rodriguez of the Venezuelan air force’s high command said he has defected from Maduro’s military and declared his support for Guaido.
The video has been edited, and CNN cannot independently authenticate it. It’s not clear when or where it was filmed.
With some 1,000 or so generals reportedly in Venezuela’s military, there have not been many other signs of mass desertion in the upper ranks so far, according to CNN senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh, who was recently inside Venezuela.
Venezuela’s air force command reacted to the defection on Twitter, calling Yanez a “traitor.”
“Worthless is the man of war who betrays the loyalty and fidelity swearing of the land of Bolivar and the legacy of Comandante Hugo Chavez, and kneels before the imperialist pretensions,” the air force command tweet said.
At a pro-government rally in Caracas Saturday, Maduro called on the country’s militia to join the Venezuelan army.
“I call the militia men and women to sign up for your military service,” Maduro said. “We are preparing to defend the sacred motherland in case they one day dare to mess with our beloved Venezuela.”
Maduro also appeared to back a plan to bring forward parliamentary elections, suggesting the pro-government Constitutional Assembly could call a new vote “this very year.”
“You all know about the crisis which the National Assembly is in, the bourgeois legislative power,” Maduro told the crowd, referring to the pro-opposition body.
“I am in agreement with rectifying the legislative power of the nation and going forward with free elections in the nation with guarantees, and for the people to decide on a new National Assembly.”
The pro-Maduro marches, in part, commemorated the 20th anniversary of the inauguration of Maduro’s mentor and predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez. Many of the thousands who took to the streets wore red and waved banners in support of the Bolivarian Revolution.
CNN’s Hande Atay Alam, Eliott C. McLaughlin, Stefano Pozzebon and Claudia Dominguez contributed reporting.