WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza on Tuesday denied there was a military coup attempt underway to oust President Nicolas Maduro and accused opposition leader Juan Guaido of operating under orders from Washington.
Guaido called for a military uprising and armed factions exchanged gunfire outside a Caracas air base on Tuesday, although the incident fizzled out and did not appear to be part of an immediate attempt by the opposition to take power through military force.
“It is not a coup attempt from the military. This is directly planned in Washington, in the Pentagon and Department of State, and by Bolton,” Arreaza told Reuters in a phone interview from Caracas, referring to U.S. national security adviser John Bolton.
“They are leading this coup and giving orders to this man (Juan) Guaido,” he said.
The latest violence comes after a months-long political standoff between Maduro, backed by Russia, China and Cuba, and Guaido, who is recognized by the United States and about 50 other nations as the country’s interim president.
Arreaza said Maduro, who has been in power since 2013, was in full control of the country with the backing of the military.
“He is in his place of command as always, and he is in control of the situation. He is making government decisions every day,” said Arreaza, adding that he had spoken to Maduro four or five times on Tuesday.
Asked why Maduro had not been seen in public on Tuesday, Arreaza said: “You will see President Maduro with his people in Miraflores (presidential palace) sooner (rather) than later.”
He estimated that around 30 or fewer members of the military had sided with Guaido, who was accompanied at a rally in Caracas with several dozen armed troops. “This is 30 out of about 200,000, so it is almost nothing,” he added.
Maduro has called Guaido a U.S.-backed puppet who seeks to oust him in a coup.
Washington has imposed sanctions to try to dislodge Maduro. Arreaza, who was himself targeted with sanctions by Washington last week, said the Venezuelan government would act to maintain peace and security.
“We are not threatening anyone with the use of violence. It’s the United States, it’s the opposition,” said Arreaza, who is married to the eldest daughter of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s former president who died in 2013 of cancer.
Arreaza said he had spoken to representatives from countries in the region and in Europe who were concerned about the situation and urged dialogue. He declined to name the countries, adding that the government was open to dialogue.
Reporting by Lesley Wroughton, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien and Jonathan Oatis