A top U.S. administration official said on April 30 that illegitimate dictator Nicolás Maduro was ready to leave Venezuela but didn’t follow through after Russia coaxed him into staying.
The revelation came as the country’s legitimate interim president, Juan Guaidó, called for the “largest march” in the country’s history on May 1 with the initialization of his “final phase” plan to oust the embattled socialist dictator.
“We literally had Nicolás Maduro getting prepared to get on this airplane and head out of the country before he was stopped, stopped really at the direction of the Russians,” he said at a gala in Washington.
National security adviser John Bolton meanwhile pointed out Cuba’s role in propping up Maduro. In an interview with Fox News on May 1, he said: “The Russians are all over this; the Cubans are all over this.”
As the unrest swelled, Maduro stayed at the Cuban headquarters in Venezuela because “he didn’t trust his own armed forces enough,” Bolton said. He also hit back at the incorrect characterization of a coup d’état, referring to Guaidó’s legitimacy as interim president.
“The coup here has been by the Cubans and the Russians who have grafted themselves onto Venezuela,” Bolton said. “I think they are running it in some senses more than Maduro is.”
Russia and China for years have fed Maduro’s regime billions of dollars through loans and energy deals. They both continue to support Maduro over Guaidó, who is recognized internationally with the backing of more than 50 nations. The State Department didn’t respond by press time to a request for further comment on Russia’s involvement.
“We’ve watched throughout the day, it’s been a long time since anyone’s seen Maduro,” Pompeo told CNN on April 30. “He had an airplane on the tarmac, he was ready to leave this morning as we understand it and the Russians indicated he should stay.”
Pompeo also said that he believed Maduro would have left had the Russians and Cubans not intervened with “sufficient support.”
In early April, the Treasury Department sanctioned two Venezuelan shipping operators and a vessel that delivered oil to Cuba. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has warned Cuba to cease its military involvement.
“If Cuban Troops and Militia do not immediately CEASE military and other operations for the purpose of causing death and destruction to the Constitution of Venezuela, a full and complete embargo, together with highest-level sanctions, will be placed on the island of Cuba,” Trump said on Twitter on April 30.
If Cuban Troops and Militia do not immediately CEASE military and other operations for the purpose of causing death and destruction to the Constitution of Venezuela, a full and complete….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 30, 2019
On-the-ground footage showed some of Maduro’s military forces deserting their posts and joining Guaidó during street clashes. As the crowd swelled to thousands, more than 100 were injured as Venezuelans sensed what could be their strongest opportunity yet to overthrow the regime.
“Today we continue,” Guaidó said in a post on Twitter early on May 1. “We will keep going with more strength than ever, Venezuela.”
Russia has denied Pompeo’s account, with Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova telling CNN that “Washington tried its best to demoralize the Venezuelan army and now used fakes as a part of information war.”
In earlier remarks, Zakharova said that Washington’s involvement in Venezuela may “cause a collapse of the situation.”