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Guaidó and advisers were 'too impatient' to oust Maduro, says man who led coup against Chávez

General May 5, 2019

Guaidó and advisers were 'too impatient' to oust Maduro, says man who led coup against ChávezJuan Guaidó and his advisers were “perhaps too impatient” in their keenness to force out Nicolas Maduro, according to the only man to have ever ousted the Chavista rulers of Venezuela. Pedro Carmona, now 77, toppled Hugo Chávez in a 2002 uprising whose anniversary was marked across Venezuela last month. He was sworn in as interim leader inside the Miraflores presidential palace and ruled the country for 48 hours, before supporters in the military rallied round Chávez and restored him to power. Mr Carmona, in his first ever interview with a British newspaper, said that the uprising launched on Tuesday was disappointing, risky, and should have been better planned. Five people have been killed in a week of protests, yet Mr Maduro has held on, despite this being Mr Guaidó's most serious push to oust him since declaring himself the constitutionally-legitimate interim president on January 23. “It’s hard to opine from outside,” said Mr Carmona, who has lived in exile in Bogota since his failed rebellion. “But it looks like they could have given advance warning of some actions. They could have planned better. It seems like they should have had some more things in place. It was risky.” Mr Guaidó released a video on Twitter, calling on more soldiers to join him in  Credit: EPA-EFE/REX Despite its failure, however, it was a stunning gambit on the part of the 35-year-old National Assembly leader. Venezuelans woke up to a dawn video message from Mr Guaidó, flanked by dozens of troops, stationed just outside the La Carlota air force base in Caracas, announcing the start of "Operation Freedom". By his side stood Leopoldo López, the long time opposition leader, freed from house arrest by members of the state intelligence service, Sebin.  Across Venezuela, protesters heeded Mr Guaidó's call, pouring on to the streets. Most of the military, however, heeded Mr Maduro's, and succeeded in putting down the rebellion. But while the state was able to reassert its grip, the fracture within the armed forces was left in evidence; at one point, the gates to the La Carlota base opened, allowing in anti-government protesters. While Mr Guaidó has since acknowledged that he did not have enough military support for  a definitive break, last week’s events saw Mr Maduro come closer to losing his hold on the nation than ever before. Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, even said that Mr Maduro had an aeroplane waiting for him on the tarmac, destined for Cuba, but was convinced to hang on by Russian advisers. Rebelling forces identified themselves with blue armbands Credit: Yuri Cortez/AFP “In Venezuela, it’s never just the opposition at work – it’s international geopolitical forces, and armed gangs,” Mr Carmona said. “Last week the Russian ambassador was acting like a military spokesman, reassuring the nation that everything was fine in the country. “It’s a disgrace that the Russian government supports Maduro’s genocidal regime.” Mr Carmona sees clear parallels with his own attempted uprising 17 years ago, which was preceded by street protests similar to those occurring now. Fourteen people died in the violence and a group of soldiers, angered at the civilian bloodshed, conspired to remove Chávez.  Mr Carmona, the president of the chamber of commerce (Fedecamaras), was chosen as interim president. On April 11, 2002, the military swung into action, and arrested Chávez, taking him to the national army headquarters, Fuerte Tiuna.  Chávez accepted an offer of asylum from Fidel Castro, but was prevented from leaving by coup leaders who wanted him tried in Venezuela – a mistake which was to prove fatal to their plot. Pro-Chávez soldiers then came to his defence, and on April 13, at  4:40am, he addressed the nation from inside Miraflores, president once again. John Bolton pointed to three members of Mr Maduro's inner circle as being involved in the plan to remove him Credit: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE/REX Recently declassified documents have shown that the US – as well as Spain – were strongly supporting Mr Carmona behind the scenes – he, however, insisted to The Telegraph that he never spoke to any US agent or official either before or during the coup. This time around, Donald Trump's administration has been open about its role. Speaking amid the uprising, John Bolton, the US national security adviser, claimed Mr Maduro had been betrayed by three of those closest to him: the supreme court president , the head of the presidential guard, and, crucially, General Vladimir Padrino Lopez, the defence minister. The next day, Elliot Abrams, the US envoy for Venezuela, said that those who had been negotiating Mr Maduro's departure had "switched off their cellphones". The Sebin intelligence chief, Manuel Cristopher Figuera, was also allegedly on board – and indeed was fired by Mr Maduro the day of the uprising; he himself released a letter admitting knowledge of, if not complicity in, the plot, before apparently fleeing the country. On Thursday, Mr Maduro addressed troops with Gen. Lopez by his side, insisting he was in control of the military Credit: Jhonn Zerpa/Miraflores Press Office Gen. Lopez, meanwhile, later appeared to confirm the Americans had contacted him, telling troops on Thursday there were those who approached him with a "ridiculous offer" who then went "shooting their mouths off". Whether he rejected the offer, double-crossed the US or reversed course as failure loomed isn't clear.  Leopoldo López, meanwhile, also claimed on Thursday that senior military figures had committed themselves to ousting Mr Maduro. "I had meetings in my house when I was under house arrest. I met there with commanders, I met there with generals. I met there with representatives of specific parts of the armed forces and specific parts of the police forces," he insisted. Mr Carmona, however, believes the uprising has brought the end of Mr Maduro's reign closer.  “Guaido did make advances last week – it wasn’t a total failure," he said. "He weakened the resolve of many soldiers. He freed Leopoldo Lopez from house arrest. He reiterated international support. It’s a process of steps. Now he is moving to a strike. And history has shown us that dictatorships in Latin America often fall with general strikes.”

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