Number of Venezuelans fleeing to Brazil surges during attempt to oust Maduro

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro speaks during a ceremony at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil April 30, 2019. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Close to triple the usual number of Venezuelans fled to Brazil on Tuesday, when Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido led an attempt to oust socialist leader Nicolas Maduro from power, according to Brazilian government data released on Wednesday.

Some 850 Venezuelans came to Brazil on Tuesday by foot, the government said, compared with the usual range of between 250 and 300.

The migrants arrived in Brazil’s Roraima state, one of the country’s most isolated and poor, which borders Venezuela and has seen thousands of migrants arrive in recent months. A wider exodus has pushed millions of Venezuelans largely to Colombia and Peru.

On Tuesday, Guaido, whom many countries recognize as the president of the South American nation, publicly called for the military to back him to force Maduro from power, sparking protests and violence. But on Wednesday Maduro remained in control as Guaido called for demonstrations throughout the country.

“There is no defeat,” Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro said of Guaido in remarks broadcast on TV. “I commend and recognize the patriotic and democratic spirit that he has to fight for freedom in his party.”

Bolsonaro, who assumed office in January, has helped lead the regional opposition to Maduro’s continued leadership in Venezuela. He has stopped short of backing direct intervention in the neighboring country.

He added that he had received information that fractures within the Venezuelan army could still lead to the “collapse” of Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government.

“The information that we have is that there is a facture that is getting closer and closer to the leadership of the (Venezuelan) armed forces,” Bolsonaro said in remarks broadcast by channel Globo News.

Bolsonaro added that his government has had no contact with the United States regarding use of Brazilian territory as a base for potential military intervention in Venezuela. If he were contacted, Bolsonaro said, he would involve his defense council and Congress in making a decision.

Reporting by Eduardo Simoes; Writing by Marcelo Rochabrun; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Steve Orlofsky and Jonathan Oatis