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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
The Opposition Leader, Juan Guaido, Calling For The People To Stand Up Against The Regime Of Nicolas Maduro. Aired 12p-1p ET
Aired April 30, 2019 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
VLADIMIR PADRINO, THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE, VENEZUELA (through translator): ... and to create discord, you don't reach Miraflores through violence and he who does so will be defeated through violence, there will be a paradox sort of game. Because there is a thought of irrationality in today's Venezuelan opposition leadership. It's an opposition aimed at coups, it's a savage opposition -- it's an opposition that have that has no sense of homeland. It is against democracy. And they want to win the respect to the Armed Forces. Stop fooling around, stop this mess, or do you think that you're playing with children here in the Armed Forces. Do not underestimate us. Do not continue making these misleading proposals to the Armed Forces, we are moved by love for the homeland law. We believe that love for the law, love for independence.
So therefore, I demand that you -- one more time, I demand that you who are looking for chaos, anarchy, death, and violence. So I demand that you stop these practices, and I hold you responsible for any act of violence, death, or bloodshed that takes place in Venezuela from this time on, and the laws will be there supporting us in our action. The Constitution will be there to support us in our action.
So to the people of Venezuela, we tell you, you have the Bolivarian Armed Forces here intact, looking after the interest of the homeland. And I ask you -- the people, and the National Armed Forces, not to support the misinformation campaign, the fake news, which are involved trying to mislead you and mislead the Venezuelan population. Please reject also this psychological campaign against Venezuela.
So the call to the Venezuelan people is become sensitive. There isn't any situation that we'll put at risk the democracy of Venezuela right now. This is an attempt that some of these people have made led by the far right of Venezuela who have made a ridicule. This has and will strengthen us day by day, any attack against the homeland and the offense and homeland will lead the Armed Forces to stand firm supporting and led by the Bolivar principles and the liberty of us all.
Ladies and gentlemen of the Venezuelan people, children, women, housewives, be calm. Carry on working. This Venezuela is built working, but not fighting against each other, not killing one another. Not aiming weapons at each other. This Venezuela is built in this way with solidarity. It did in times of hardship but also with conscience to work. We don't have to wait for other people to come here to do our job. We have to do our job ourselves and we're willing to do it with respect, dignity, and independence. So, ladies and gentlemen -- for the Venezuelan people, you can count
with the Bolivarian Armed Forces. Let's strengthen our unity and the civil and military union and let us move forward towards peace, victory, and the unity of all Venezuelans. Long live Chavez. Independence to the socialist homeland. Loyal always, we shall win.
[12:05:17] JULIA CHATTERLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Okay. So what you've just been listening to there is a clear demonstration, I think in light of the events of the last few hours in Venezuela from the military who are suggesting that they remain loyal here. At least those forces there to incumbent President Nicolas Maduro, some comments there, in response to what we've seen this morning and the opposition leader self-confessed President, Juan Guaido, calling on the military to rise up against Nicolas Maduro.
The response there from a high ranking military leader, as you saw, was calling them fascist leaders, a leadership that's focused on creating chaos, anarchy, death, and violence. They said, "Look, the opposition here is trying to divide us. They have no sense of homeland here, that violence will be defeated. No sense of democracy." The message directly to opposition leaders, "Stop fooling around. Do you think that you're playing with children here?" Don't make these kind of proposals to their military. You saw there, again, a clear demonstration. They're saying that the military here remain loyal, a message to the people, I think, too, here as well, telling Venezuelans to be calm, and that the situation is under control.
The beginning of that press conference also indicating -- the look around the country, things do remain calm. Rafael Romo is senior Latin American affairs editor, and he has been following the events in Venezuela from our headquarters in Atlanta.
Rafael, come in here. Your views here clearly a demonstration from the military, in light of what we've seen over the last few hours that despite calls from the opposition here for the military to lead up and violence earlier on today between opposing forces within the military. The suggestion here from the government -- is their military here at least remain behind Nicolas Maduro?
RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR: Yes, Julia, what we just saw is a show of unity and nothing more. I can tell you and I've been following this story and been to Venezuela many, many times. What Vladimir Padrino, the Secretary of Defense there was talking -- it's some of the same points that you can hear in Venezuela from the government on a weekly basis. But today, it was very clear that they wanted to come out together. And he was surrounded by some of the top generals in the country and show the people of Venezuela that they're united, that the military is still solidly behind President Nicolas Maduro. That's what they've been trying to do.
However, it is very indicative to me to have seen opposition leader, Juan Guaido, surrounded by thousands of thousands of supporters in, not only, the military Air Base where he made his pronouncement or earlier this morning, but also in Plaza Altamira, one of the bastions of the opposition, and we see these images coming live to us from Caracas where we see him still there. The fact that he hasn't been stopped and the fact that he's been able
to move freely around of Caracas, tells me that at least in that part of the country, the Security Forces are not solidly behind the government as a he claims -- as President Maduro and the Minister of Defense claim is the case. And now, we have to put all of this into context.
It started several hours ago with this pronouncement, by Juan Guaido and he says, he has the support of the armed forces. We are hearing exactly the opposite from President Maduro and the Minister of Defense. But the reality is that at this hour, is not clear who is supporting who. We have seen the protesters also face -- being in a standoff against this National Guard at the Air Base. And we also have reports from our CNN Espanol reporters on the ground that they have heard live ammunition. We don't have any reports of deaths or injuries but the reality is that the situation is chaotic and very fluid at this point -- Julia.
CHATTERLEY: Yes, you make a good point. As you say, things are moving incredibly quickly at this moment. Just, in reference to what you were saying there a few moments ago, we saw some incredibly disturbing scenes outside the military base. Armored cars drove straight into a crowd of protesters who were throwing missiles. I want to warn you before we show you this video that it is extremely graphic. And this happened just a few minutes ago in the Capital. Just take a look at this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHATTERLEY (voice over): You can see the car, they're driving straight into that crowd of people. Some of whom, were trying to get away, others who were standing firm, the truck then -- the military vehicle then drives away as members of the crowd go to attend to those who may have been injured. Some members of the crowd respond with missiles. You can see it's a pretty chaotic scene.
[12:10:08] CHATTERLEY: One truck, and you'll see that later appears to catch fire, you can see that on the top corner of your screen at this stage. I mean clearly this was crowds -- protesters gathering, but you've got a sense there in light of what we've just seen in that press conference.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHATTERLEY: And you'll see this in a second, that there was a whole line of what appeared to be military forces lining up to protect that road against the protesters there. And we just saw that in the last 15 to 20 minutes or so. I want to bring in Stefano Pozzebon, who is in Caracas now for us.
Stefano, obviously, those scenes are incredibly dramatic. The sense that we're getting now is we're seeing a more bold stance from forces, at least saying that they are loyal to Nicolas Maduro here, but as far as the response from individuals, seeing those scenes of military forces, injuring their own citizens, is inflammatory to say the least at a very tense time. STEFANO POZZEBON, JOURNALIST: Definitely, Julia. And let's remember
that this is not a country that is new to military uprisings. Nicolas Maduro's predecessor himself, the late leader, Hugo Chavez, has made himself by leading an attempted military coup in 1992. So this situation -- the people around me, I'm talking to you, Julia from Plaza Altamira, from that bastion of the opposition that Rafael was referring to you just a few minutes ago.
The people around me are saying that they have been waiting for this moment, for a very long time. They've been waiting to see military men joining sides and being shoulder to shoulder with Juan Guaido. That, as Rafael said, triggered an intensive confrontation with live ammunition. We witnessed that. And I have here in my hands a few shots of the live ammunition that have been fired, because as we said, the key particular points of today -- today, we have seen members of the military both on Nicolas Maduro's side, but also crucially on Juan Guaido's side. And these have been out on the streets armed to say that they're ready to put and stand out -- to stay put until Nicolas Maduro has finally shown his way out, Julia.
So definitely, tense situation here in Caracas, very, very volatile. We are just a few hundreds of meters from the military Air Base where those images that you're referring to -- those accidents took place. And we've been there -- we have been there all morning. And we've seen [LOST AUDIO].
CHATTERLEY: Okay, I'm just going to pick up there because we did seem to lose connection there with Stefano, but we will take you back, as he was describing demonstrations around the country set today in here, actually very close to what we were showing earlier. So I think Stefano is back with us. Stefano, carry on, because you were just describing your location right now and what we're seeing -- just describe again where you are in relation to some of the scenes that we were seeing earlier, where members, colleagues within the military were fighting. You were involved -- you were seeing that earlier this morning. How close to that location are you now and what are people around you saying?
POZZEBON: Yes, Julia, we're about 200 meters, and just on the background of the pictures, you should see this smoke growing up and that is the key military Air Base and where most of the clashes and the most dramatic clashes took place earlier today. We've been there for the best part of this morning. And we have been able to witness the live ammunitions being fired between members of the same military units. National Guardsmen fighting, shooting at each other because some of them have effectively defected against Nicolas Maduro and joined sides with the opposition leader, Juan Guaido.
I'm in Plaza Altamira -- a square that is being a bastion of anti- government protesters for years and the hundreds of protesters have been gathered here around me. I've been saying that they've been waiting, Julia. They've been waiting for this moment for so long. They've been waiting for the moment to see that the military was finally joining side with Juan Guaido. Yet to be seen how many military units have joined sides with Guaido. How widespread is the support for Juan Guaido within the bulk of the Armed Forces. But the fact that we're seeing men in uniform in the square shoulder to shoulder with the opposition leader, is indeed a dramatic development for those of us who have been following the Venezuelan story for some time now -- Julia.
[12:15:17] CHATTERLEY: Yes, Stefano, I mean we were just showing live pictures of crowd swarming around the opposition leader, Juan Guaido, of course, he called for this military uprising, called for the people today to rally behind him. And as you said, dramatic scenes there of him standing shoulder to shoulder with at least some members of the military here.
You know, you said as well that the people have been waiting for this moment. Did they see this as hope, as a sign that actually, this is the moment where the military is going to finally back the opposition leader, Juan Guaido? Because we were just showing a press conference with the suggestion, at least, that many senior members of the military still stand behind Nicolas Maduro. So what changes this?
POZZEBON: Yes, exactly, Julia. The people around me are saying -- more than half of them -- the full of the military will join Juan Guaido. What is really an emotional call right now happening here in Caracas is an end of the stalemate. We have been seeing for the past three months or so since early January, both Guaido and Maduro calling on their supporters, first of all, grasping between the two of them, they are jostling for power, until we got a moment of balance and essentially the situation has stalled for some time.
So for the past few weeks, it was hard to understand if the opposition still have the momentum that is showed on their side in the earlier weeks of this year. The people around me are excited, not only because they're seeing some members of the military next to Guaido, but most crucially, because there is a feeling that the opposition has gathered again -- some sort of momentum against Nicolas Maduro -- and some sort of momentum in the international sphere as well. Because we're seeing declarations of support for Juan Guaido coming from abroad, coming from his numerous allies in the international community.
So yet to understand how much of the military is actually with Guaido, yet to understand how much of the military top brass, as you said, Julia. Those generals who were standing by Defense Minister, Vladimir Padrino Lopez -- how many -- how much of the top brass of the military is standing by Juan Guaido. Not many -- it seems so far. But at least the momentum is back on the side of the opposition. And that has been enough to trigger some sort of emotional response here in the streets of Caracas -- Julia.
CHATTERLEY: Stefano Pozzebon, stay safe for us. Thank you so much for that report.
All right, let's talk more about this. Monica de Bolle is from the Peterson Institute, and she joins us now. Monica, great to have you with us. Just how pivotal are the scenes that we're seeing today in Venezuela?
MONICA DE BOLLE, PETERSON INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL ECONOMICS SENIOR FELLOW: Well, I think they are certainly pivotal because they're very, very different from what we had seen in previous occasions. So if we just go back to January when Juan Guaido declared himself the interim President. Yes, we saw a lot of commotion. We saw the opposition, sort of, trying to build some kind of a momentum, and then it kind of went away.
And then now, we see this uprising with apparent military defections from the Maduro camp, which we haven't seen before, as the report was saying just now, it's unclear how many of these defections have actually happened and whether senior officials from the military are moving towards the opposition side.
But whether or not that has happens within the next few hours, the fact is that this kind of momentum, we have not seen and this may serve to mobilize some of the military which Guaido would need to have on his side in order to topple Maduro.
CHATTERLEY: How important are the scenes that we saw? Earlier today, the opposition figure Leopoldo Lopez, seemingly being freed from house arrest. He said it was armed -- an armed movement that released him too, just in terms of sentiment of flouting the role of Nicolas Maduro's regime here. How important do you think this is both for the military and those that are perhaps thinking of defecting here and supporting Juan Guaido but also, for the people here that are watching this happen, too?
DE BOLLE: Well, as I was watching the video this morning, when it first came out, and I saw that Leopoldo Lopez was there and that, you know, he was saying basically that he was aided by the guards in sort of freeing him and he's been under house arrest for the past three years. I saw that as an extremely significant event.
[12:20:07] DE BOLLE: An event that that certainly signals -- and it is very symbolic -- and certainly signals that there are defections going on and that these defections are now moving somewhere. It's not just a few people defecting. There may be a larger movement here at hand. So I think it's very, very significant indeed.
CHATTERLEY: How important are the words of support as well, from the international community, the United States has been very clear, reiterating that they're throwing their support behind Juan Guaido? But on the other side, you've got the likes of the Russians, the Turkish that continue to support Nicolas Maduro. Is it just words at this stage and if anything is going to happen, ultimately to this regime, it has to come from within?
DE BOLLE: Well, I think it does have to come from within that's inevitable. But that being said, the support of the international community, and it's a critical mass, because we have the U.S., we have Canada, we have the members of the Lima Group, who have all declared support for Juan Guaido. This is very, very significant for him.
So, regardless of how the situation ends today, even if it doesn't end very well for Juan Guaido at first, he's going to have that kind of publicity and that kind of visibility on his side, which may be extremely important for the opposition going forward. Yes, there are the questions of the involvement of Russia and China --
in particular Russia and what Russia is currently doing on the ground in Venezuela, which we know very little about. But ultimately the larger critical mass on the part of the international community is key and the support that Juan Guaido has is quite large.
CHATTERLEY: We will continue to watch this developing story. Monica, thank you so much for joining us on the show.
DE BOLLE: Thank you.
CHATTERLEY: Fast moving developments happening in Venezuela right now. As you've been seeing. We will see how other nations in the region are responding after this. Stay with CNN.
CHATTERLEY: Welcome back to the show. We continue to follow that developing story out of Venezuela. The unrest of course being fueled partly by Venezuela's dire economic situation. Hyperinflation is a key issue with the IMF saying it will reach 10 million percent this year.
Venezuelans have suffered acute food shortages, medicines, and other basic goods. The government has only just begun to accept aid shipments. John Defterios joins me now. John, you know you and I have spoken about this story -- the economics of this story many times. All the more shocking because this is a country that has the world's largest proven oil reserves. How did we get here?
[12:25:03] JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN BUSINESS' EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR: Well first, Julia, let's take a look at the scenes on the street because those are finally starting to signal that people have had enough in Venezuela because loyalty to the Maduro regime and the Chavez regime, before it, came at a very heavy price, as you suggested. We thought it was a record when the inflation spiked up to a million percent in 2018. And as you suggested, the International Monetary Fund, it has pegged that at 14 million percent.
It is unprecedented. There's a league of the hyperinflation countries that include Zimbabwe in the past. Iran is struggling now because of the pressure coming from the Trump administration and the sanctions. And then you have Sudan, which has had regime change there. But this is entirely different. And it comes from the spending that took place over the last 20 years, but accelerated by Nicolas Maduro.
And I saw that you were -- in our previous discussion with the guest there -- the role of China and Russia, they've put up $70 billion over the last decade. The guest was rightly suggesting the last five years, it's been Vladimir Putin propping up the Maduro regime with some $20 billion and swap for oil. The oil collapse that we've seen over the last 10 years is extraordinary going from 3 million barrels a day, back in 2009, Julia.
The latest figure in March went across from OPEC of 732,000 barrels shocked the world. The energy sector in particular -- we've seen 20 months of decline in the energy sector for Venezuela, partially because the U.S. sanctions that were put in at the end of January and factually, when we were at Davos has put the squeeze on capital on the state oil giant PDVSA. And we saw them break that on million barrel mark on a daily basis down to 732,000 barrels. It's the number one export earner, of course, for Venezuela, and they can no longer print money and that's why we see the hyperinflation.
And as you suggested, it's hard to really understand the pain of the Venezuelan people -- water shortages, power shortages, food shortages, and medicine shortages. And in the last hour, a shift here from Washington with the U.S. administration and the U.S. Treasury Secretary saying, if the coup is successful, expect an economic reboot. And this is where the geopolitics come in, Julia.
I cannot imagine Russia and China staying on the sidelines, and in fact, we've seen wires crossing with Vladimir Putin meeting with his security apparatus in Moscow. There's a lot at stake geopolitically. And of course, as you suggested, largest proven oil reserves are better than 300 billion barrels. This has even topped Saudi Arabia here in the Middle East.
CHATTERLEY: It's interesting, because the Venezuelan Foreign Minister, even today, tweeting, "Look, the United States needs to be hands off here." But this regime is blamed, in particular the United States and their U.S. sanctions, for the pain, for the struggle that the Venezuelan people are suffering at this stage. So there's always been that offset. And your point about the money that's been lent to the nation by China, by the Russians, also explains their calibration of response, the support, particularly for the Russians here, for Nicolas Maduro's regime.
It's so complicated to unpack this. The question is, to your point exactly, does the suggestion here that the United States is saying, "Look, guys with perhaps regime change, leadership change here -- the sanctions, the economics of this situation can be changed, and probably very quickly.
DEFTERIOS: Well Julia, we were having the conversations with other correspondents that are on the ground here. This is pervasive, the protests that we see in the pictures that you have up in Caracas, we have to kind of take a temperature gauge of what's taking place in the hinterlands in Venezuela. This has been the support of Hugo Chavez for 13 years and for the last five years, of course, of Nicolas Maduro.
Will this protest be pervasive throughout the country? We've seen fits and starts of the protests and you have to wonder if the Venezuelans here have the fire in their belly to continue to up-rise. But the economic incentive for them is clearly there.
As I was suggesting, living in that sort of climate of hyperinflation, with the shadow currency being the dollar and then having the United States, as you were suggesting, tightening the noose since the start of 2019 with the sanctions, and at the end of January, really shutting down the financial capital markets to PVDSA, the state oil giant, it could no longer trade the bonds that left many in Wall Street hanging on the cliff there because they had invested in these Venezuelan bonds and they collapsed when the U.S. decided to shut down that vow, the dollar is going into the Venezuelan economy, and Nicolas Maduro doesn't have the option going forward here.
I don't see fresh capital from China, or fresh capital from Russia to allow him to print money and splash money to hold on to the support into the hinterlands that I was talking about. It's a critical window here. But we have to raise the question: Is this going to be pervasive throughout the country here? So Juan Guaido gets the support that he needs beyond the capital that we see in the pictures and the images you've been showing?
CHATTERLY: And therein lies the key the message from the United States, of course, that things can improve economically, just perhaps, with different leadership. John Defterios, thank you so much for that. More to come when we return. Stay with us.
CHATTERLEY: Okay, welcome back to the show. We are showing you live pictures, dramatic scenes here in Caracas, Venezuela of a bus on fire. As you can see, black smoke churning above it. People just standing around watching. This of course in light of dramatic scenes that we've seen throughout the last few hours. The opposition leader, Juan Guaido, calling for the people to stand up -- the military to stand up against the regime of Nicolas Maduro.
On the left of your screen, I'm showing you there, as you can see, that fire -- the bus on fire in the center of Caracas. On the opposite screen, we can see a number of what looks like military personnel backing up across a highway here, maybe around 50 of them there. What we've seen in the last 30 minutes or so, a more significant response from the military saying that they remain behind incumbent President Nicolas Maduro.
A stronger response there, a show of force against the calls from opposition leader. But as you can see there, black smoke billowing up into the sky from a bus that has been set alight. We will continue to watch the developments there.
It's tough to get a sense of where we are in relation to the scenes that we saw earlier. We were showing you earlier on in the show from the airport where protesters were building where we saw the scenes of the military personnel creating a barrier and a line and of course, those horrific images of the military truck actually driving into some of those protesters. This is just the latest development in this fast-moving story in Venezuela, as the opposition leader has called for both the people and of course, the military personnel to stand up against the regime.
A developing story there. But as you can see, dramatic scenes again, of a bus on fire. We will continue to watch that for you and just give you a sense of positioning as well in Caracas, Venezuela. But I'm just going to add further to the story. Now, the international response, the whole world I think today
watching the developments in Venezuela, the U.S. Vice President adding his voice. The most senior official to voice support for Juan Guaido and "Operacion Libertad" or Operation Freedom.
Earlier, Mike Pence sent this tweet to the people of Venezuela, "We are with you! America will stand with you until freedom and democracy are restored." Our senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski joins us live from Washington. Michelle, a strong show of support once again from the United States here.
[12:35:09] CHATTERLEY: I think everyone, including the U.S. administration here, just waiting to see which way the Venezuelan military decides to go here as these dramatic scenes continue to unfold.
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, a couple of things here, those were strong words. And we've heard from the National Security adviser John Bolton, the Vice President, and Secretary of State. Mike Pence is saying that the U.S. fully supports this Operation Liberty, but we're not really hearing from anybody in the administration, especially the State Department directly.
Weeks ago, when there were incremental updates on this situation in Venezuela on the ground, we would hear from the U.S. Special Envoy in person here in the briefing room on a nearly daily basis, answering all of our questions. But today, when this operation is going on, we've only heard from them in these few tweets. And the other big question, of course is, what exactly is Operation Libertad? Is this some kind of a coup? Is it a coup attempt? Is this going to mean there's military action that's going to happen? Does Guaido really have a critical mass of military support at this point?
When we hear from Guaido there, the way he describes this is an appeal for more members of the military to join the opposition's side, for more Venezuelans to take to the streets. So that has added some clarity. And here in Washington, we just heard in a very impromptu press conference from Carlos Vecchio, Guaido's Ambassador to the United States.
He added quite a bit of clarity because everyone has these questions like, what exactly is this and what's going to happen? If this is the beginning of the end for Maduro, what are the mechanics of that and what do you expect? Well, he said, "This is not a military coup, there are more actions to come," although those are unspecified. He insists the U.S. did not help coordinate this operation, that this was Venezuelan led, but they're looking for more international support.
And a couple of these questions and answers that we just got, are telling. So at this press conference that just happened. One reporter asks, "Does this mean that the time for diplomacy is over? Are you willing to take back the government from Maduro by force?" And Ambassador Vecchio says, "No, no, no, this is totally different. The people should remain on the streets. We should be on the streets demonstrating peacefully." So, that's a sense of what is expected, at least for the time being.
And then the question comes up again, "Did the Trump administration help you coordinate this at all?" He said, "No, this is led by Venezuelans. These are people within Venezuela putting their lives at risk. This is a clear movement led by us," -- Julia.
CHATTERLEY: So there's a sense here I think that the United States has to be very cautious. We know that this regime has blamed the United States and U.S. sanctions for what the people in Venezuela have suffered. Do you think this is just the moment -- one, a lack of information waiting to see how this develops? But also the United States, like the Foreign Minister of Venezuela has accused them of that the United States needs to remain hands off. They want to do exactly that. I think that response makes sense to me.
KOSINSKI: Yes. So, it's interesting to see for how much encouragement there has been from the U.S. for exactly this to happen. How much detail we've gotten when really nothing was happening and nothing was moving this forward. Today, on the day that operation liberty is launched, yes, the U.S. wants to be very cautious in what it's saying about this. Because remember, the U.S. has been blamed for the coup attempt that happened in 2002, I guess we can call it a coup when Hugo Chavez was in power there in Venezuela. It did work. He was deposed.
There was military support for the opposition. There were negotiations between the two sides. Chavez was removed, but it only lasted for about two days. And then there was an uprising, pro-Chavez and he came right back to power. So the U.S. can't really -- there's no evidence that the U.S. helped coordinate that. Although there were meetings between U.S. officials and the opposition on that.
So, to this day, people talk about that being -- that coup being supported, and even potentially coordinated by the United States. Kind of a gray area there, even though, like I said, there's no evidence that the U.S. organized it in any way. But the U.S. wants to make sure it's known and that the opposition is making clear in Venezuela that this is Venezuelan lead, and even though the U.S. is encouraging the people it does not want to get involved at this very sensitive critical time.
[12:40:00] CHATTERLEY: And therein lies the key, Michelle Kosinski. Thank you so much there, joining us live from Washington. All right, we are now joined by Rafael Romo, he is our senior Latin American affairs editor. Rafael, I know you've been following the events in Venezuela very closely. Your observations in light of what we're seeing right now sporadic protests. We were talking earlier on the show about those graphic images of people getting injured by military truck. We've just shown pictures of a bus set alight. Very difficult to get a sense of ultimately what is going on within the city here and what kind of protests and pushback against the regime we're seeing here. Whether it is from the military side or whether it is from ordinary Venezuelans at this moment.
RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR: Yes, Julia and we should remind our viewers that this has happened before. There was a huge wave of uprisings in 2014 left hundreds of people dead over the years. We have seen the sort of protest reappear every so often and the reality is that Venezuela has been living during the last 20 years or so under what President Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, called 21st Century socialism, which has decimated the economy and has created a very chaotic situation.
John Defterios was talking about it before where hyperinflation has gone to levels not seen, at least in this side of the world ever before. And so people are fed up, people are hungry, people are lacking medications, basic necessities, hospitals, for the most part have stopped functioning in any regular fashion.
And when Guaido came publicly and declared that he was assuming the role of President back in January, many people in the opposition embraced him. He called on an article in the Constitution that says that if the President is unable to serve for any reason, the President of the National Assembly should step forward. In this case, he is the President of the National Assembly.
Venezuela had held elections last year in May. But the Chavistas, the socialists did not allow the opposition to participate. And so from the perspective of Guaido, he said, "Well, therefore the presidency is now legitimate because these were not open and transparent elections." And that's when he decided to step up and call himself the President of Venezuela.
Now, I had an opportunity to interview him recently. And he said that his plan has three very specific goals. Number one, he said, we're going to put an end to the usurpation and he calls President Nicolas Maduro, illegitimate and a usurper. And what he said this morning was exactly that. That this is the beginning of the end of usurpation.
Number two, they're going to create or at least they plan to do that, a government of transition. And number three, they're going to call for free, open, and transparent elections. The fact that he was accompanied by Leopoldo Lopez this morning, who has been under house arrest and was in prison as a political prisoner for years before is very indicative of the fact that at least this side of Venezuela, that portion that we saw there feels that they can freely move and talk to people publicly about this -- Julia.
CHATTERLEY: And we continue to show those live pictures, of course, the fact, a bus having been set on fire in Caracas. Rafael, just in terms of context, because as you said, we've seen these protests blow up before. We've seen Juan Guaido himself calling for greater support and an uprising. What people are saying is different today that we've seen elements of the military facing off against their colleagues. What we heard as well from the Information Minister this morning on Twitter was that they were deactivating.
I quote him, "Deactivating members -- a small number of traitorous military personnel." For those, if this doesn't work, and we don't see it gather momentum, how do they go back to their families? To the military? To their lives? They simply can't. Is the quelling of this today important for simply not being able to go back and try this once again, particularly for the military here because if they fail today, there's no more going back?
ROMO: That's right. And going back to January when Guaido declared himself President there was an important number of military personnel who defected, who in fact, went to Columbia and declared their loyalty to Juan Guaido, and today we have seen a number of them. We don't have the exact number that have done the same thing. He was surrounded by military personnel, Juan Guaido this one morning when he appeared publicly, with Leopoldo Lopez, but the reality is that the protesters can only do so much, Julia.
[12:45:07] ROMO: The military has, the weapons, the organization, the might to turn things around and as long as they remain committed, at least publicly to Nicolas Maduro, it's very difficult for them to change anything at all. But what caught my attention this morning Julia, was that Minister of Defense, Vladimir Padrino very quickly appeared on national TV to tell Venezuelans in the world that he and his generals were united and supporting President Nicolas Maduro. Why did they have to rush? That probably tells you a lot about the situation of Venezuela right now, Julia.
CHATTERLEY: Yes, sentiment. Rafael, thank you so much for joining us on that. All right, we're going to take a break. When we return, we'll speak to the former Industry Minister of Venezuela. Stay with us.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
CHATTERLEY: All right, we continue to cover our top story, the demonstrations, the follow-through from this morning's activity in Venezuela. Let's get some context here. We're joined by Moises Naim. He is a former Venezuelan Minister of Trade and Industry and he joins us live from Bogota in Colombia. Sir, great to have you with us. Do you see this as the beginning of the end for Nicolas Maduro's regime?
MOISES NAIM, FORMER VENEZUELAN MINISTER OF TRADE AND INDUSTRY: Yes, but it can be a prolonged process. You know, the three words that define this situation today are hope that the dictatorship would end. Hope, but uncertainty, a lot of uncertainty. And the third word is the military, as you have been noting in your coverage. It all depends on how much and how many and how actively the Armed Forces stay with Maduro and are willing to repress the opposition, and how many of them are willing to turn against a dictatorial regime?
CHATTERLEY: How confident are you that today, given what we've seen in the conflict between members of the military that perhaps today is the day that the military decide in aggregate that they no longer back Nicolas Maduro?
NAIM: No one knows that. That's the key question. It is impossible to predict. It is impossible to ascertain -- surely, some will. Some won't. There is of course a danger that it breaks in half and we start a Civil War, which as you know, Civil Wars are typically military wars, meaning that the Armed Forces breaking in pieces and they start shooting at each other. We hope that that doesn't happen. It can be very bloody. So we don't know. Again, hope, uncertainty and the military. Those are the three key words for today.
[12:50:05] CHATTERLEY: Does it take the people, an uprising from the people here because we were showing graphic images earlier on in the show of Venezuelans, all the Venezuelans potentially injured by forces loyal to Nicolas Maduro. If we see more of that, is that a catalyst potentially, too, to see the people rise up? Because at this stage we are showing some elements of protesters and people out in the streets. But as far as we can gather, not in that great amounts.
NAIM: Not yet. And remember, the people in Venezuela have risen up for years, you have had demonstrations in the hundreds of thousands and acting President Guaido has gathered and convened very significant mobilizations, the mass movement in Venezuela, in the streets, in squares. It has been very, very intense; even more than the ones we saw in the Arab Spring.
So what happens is that the symmetry in firepower is huge. You have on the side of the government, you have the Armed Forces, but you have military militias, very violent, very, very, very criminal kind of militias that are repressing the population. So you have a population that is fed up by the dictatorship, by lack of freedom by lack of food and medicines that is taking to the streets and has been taking to the streets. But on the other hand, you have the power of the military and their guns.
CHATTERLEY: Yes. And they remain key, Moises Naim, thank you so much for joining, sir, on the show.
All right, let's get more context here. Celia Szusterman is the Director of the Latin American Program at the Institute for Statecraft and she joins us now from London. Celia, I'm sure you were listening into that conversation. Do you believe we're at a pivotal moment here, perhaps where the military makes a decision to switch allegiances?
CELIA SZUSTERMAN, DIRECTOR, LATIN AMERICAN PROGRAM AT THE INSTITUTE FOR STATECRAFT: We are, but I cannot, although Moises Naim has talked of hope, I cannot see that happening. The only way would be if suddenly we saw the Venezuelan Air Force bombing the Presidential Palace, which I don't think is likely to happen.
But something that nobody again, has mentioned is that Russia is behind Maduro and it's not just the Russian support that he has, but Venezuela has turned in the last 20 years into a mafia, corrupt state. So we've got the organized criminals, we have disaffected former guerillas or guerillas from Colombia, the state security apparatus run by the Cubans. And the resources of the economy are in the hands of the military. So I just think that Guaido's call for a final phase really sounds a bit hopeless.
CHATTERLEY: You make a very important point about the financials here and the international support for either of these two men, Nicolas Maduro and Juan Guaido here. Does the international community, particularly the United States need to put more pressure on Russia here to stop backing Nicolas Maduro? Or is that a step too far? SZUSTERMAN: I don't know whether it's a step too far. But I think
it's unlikely to happen. Perhaps we should think about what happened in Syria when the international community or the West or democratic countries, however you want to term them did not -- decided not to back the opposition. Again, because it was a tribal confrontation. I think this is the problem in Venezuela. We've got tribes confronting one another. Therefore, the tribe who wins and you're fighting for survival means that will have to exterminate the other side.
So I think the international community has been trying for two years to do something forming pressure groups, the international contact group for Venezuela, calling in mediators from Colombia, from the Vatican, from wherever, and they haven't been able to advance because Maduro, following Chavez has set up a totalitarian regime.
It's not just a one-man dictatorship, you get rid of the guy, and that's the end of that. And that is the problem in Venezuela. And if the things in the street are going to get worse, we have to be on the lookout for guys on motorbikes.
[12:55:08] SZUSTERMAN: Because those are the Colectivos. Those are the militias that are armed. And I saw an image earlier of the military base with military helicopters and hundreds and hundreds of guys on motorbikes.
So for the time being, they are inside the military barracks, but once we see them out into the streets, that is when we can fear really bloody consequences, which I hope we will not have to see.
CHATTERLEY: Celia, such important context there. Thank you so much. Celia Szusterman there speaking to us. Thank you for joining us on the show.
All right, Isa Soares now joins us. She, of course, was in Venezuela recently. Isa, what are you watching for in the coming hours in particular, given everything you know about this country and the ongoing regime that we've seen here of Nicolas Maduro?
ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This, Julia, could be a pivotal moment in the history of Venezuela. But I think the next 24 to 48 hours will be key to see exactly how Juan Guaido whether he gets the support that he has been seeking, not just from the rank-and-file but from the senior brass, really of the military.
When I was out there, I spoke to several people who switched sides, who basically said, "Look, we've had enough. We can't put food on the table. I can't feed my family. I am supporting Guaido, I want to change." These with junior officers within the military.
What really Guaido has wanted to see for a long time, Julia, is that military brass supporting. These are the people that have been really next to Maduro who have been given high ranking jobs, who have been in charge of key industries within Venezuela. They have been promoted day in day out and to try and get -- earn their loyalty over the years. And this is interesting when we saw that speech about an hour or so ago from the Ministry of Defense, Padrino. He in fact, talks about unity, indeed, indeed, but it was interesting
what he said, Julia, there was no mention of Maduro. He says, "Long live Chavez," but no mention of Maduro. That question now is -- where exactly is Nicolas Maduro -- Julia?
CHATTERLEY: Yes, a contentious name to bring up at this moment, I think. Isa Soares, thank you so much for that and we will continue to watch what's going on in Venezuela to keep you updated with the latest developments, but for now, that's it for me and our special coverage of the political crisis in Venezuela amid dramatic scenes. It continues with Christiane Amanpour, next.