Miami, Feb 18 (EFE).- The commanders of Venezuela’s armed forces must renounce their allegiance to leftist President Nicolas Maduro and rally behind self-proclaimed interim head of state Juan Guaido, US President Donald Trump said here Monday.
“The eyes of the entire world are upon you, today, every day, and every day in the future,” Trump said in a speech at Florida International University in Miami.
“You cannot hide from the choice that now confronts you. You can choose to accept President Guaido’s generous offer of amnesty, to live your life in peace with your families and your countrymen,” Trump said in front of an audience including many Venezuelan expats.
Senior officers who decline to throw their support to Guaido stand to “lose everything,” the US president said, before again suggesting the possibility of American military intervention in the oil-rich South American nation.
“They are risking their future, they are risking their lives and Venezuela’s future for a man controlled by the Cuban military and protected by a private army of Cuban soldiers,” Trump said. “Maduro is not a Venezuelan patriot, he is a Cuban puppet. That’s what it is.”
Trump offered no evidence to substantiate that characterization, nor any explanation of why Venezuela – which is far wealthier than Cuba and has roughly four times the island’s population – would be subservient to the government in Havana.
“We seek a peaceful transition of power, but all options are open,” Trump said.
He likewise blasted Maduro for refusing to allow the entry into Venezuela of US humanitarian aid sitting in warehouses in the Colombian border city of Cucuta.
“Two days ago the first US Air Force C-17 landed in Colombia loaded with crucial assistance, including thousands of nutrition kits for little Venezuelan children,” Trump said. “Unfortunately dictator Maduro has blocked this life-saving aid from entering the country. He would rather see his people starve than give them aid.”
The Maduro administration denounces the aid program as a cover for US invasion.
Both the United Nations and the International Red Cross have rejected what they see as a politicized US approach to aid and say they will continue to work with the government in Caracas.
The 35-year-old Guaido has said that he will organize volunteers to bring the aid into Venezuela starting Feb. 23 if Maduro does not relent.
On Monday, the Maduro administration said that it planned to send more than 20,000 food parcels to the residents of Cucuta, along with physicians to offer free medical care to needy Colombians.
Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez appeared on state television to discuss the aid initiative as well as plans for a two-day “Hands Off Venezuela” music festival on the border in response to British mogul Richard Branson’ announcement of a Feb. 22 humanitarian benefit concert in Cucuta featuring performers such as Luis Fonsi, Juanes, Juan Luis Guerra, Alejandro Sanz, J Balvin and Carlos Vives.
At a press conference later Monday, Guaido called the planned aid to Cucuta and music festival “a mockery.”
The government “must be very cynical” to take such a position, he said.
Political polarization has accompanied a worsening economic situation in Venezuela, hard hit by the global collapse in prices for crude oil, its chief export.
On Jan. 23, Guaido, the speaker of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, proclaimed himself interim president hours after US Vice President Mike Pence encouraged him to take that step and assured him of Washington’s support.
Trump quickly recognized Guaido as president and roughly 50 other countries have followed suit, including Canada, Colombia, Argentina and Brazil, as well as major European powers France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom.
Those nations agree with the Venezuelan opposition that Maduro’s May 2018 re-election victory was a sham.
Russia, China, Iran and Turkey are among the countries that support Maduro.
Maduro and his allies say US-led economic sabotage is to blame for Venezuela’s shortages and hyperinflation.
But critics of the president and his late political mentor and predecessor, Hugo Chavez, say “socialist” policies have destroyed a once-prosperous economy.
Yet while Chavez liked to talk about “21st-century socialism,” the proportion of the Venezuelan economy under private control has expanded from 65 percent to 70 percent during the Chavez-Maduro era.
Polls show Maduro with an approval rating of under 30 percent. At the same time, fewer than 20 percent of Venezuelans had heard of Guaido before he proclaimed himself president.
Eighty-six percent of respondents in a recent survey said that they opposed foreign military intervention and 81 percent were against the economic sanctions Washington has imposed on Venezuela with the aim of toppling Maduro.