¡Hola! indeed. Okay, okay, Mike Pence put this a little differently, calling on Venezuelans to “make your voices heard,” while they “reclaim your birthright of Libertad.” Everyone understands exactly what he means, though, when he calls Nicolas Maduro a “dictator” and “usurper”:
As the good people of Venezuela make your voices heard tomorrow, on behalf of the American people, we say: estamos con ustedes. We are with you. We stand with you, and we will stay with you until Democracy is restored and you reclaim your birthright of Libertad. pic.twitter.com/ThzIAqBoRn
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) January 22, 2019
Pence’s name is fairly unknown to the majority of Venezuelans, who are only used to hearing of President Donald Trump’s name during Maduro’s regular televised speeches. But the video from the second-ranking official in the U.S. government provides powerful public backing for efforts to oust the Venezuelan leader.
In the message, delivered mostly in English with Spanish subtitles, Pence calls Guaido, the newly sworn-in head of the National Assembly, “courageous” and says the assembly is “the last vestige of democracy in your country.”
“As you make your voices heard tomorrow, on behalf of the American people, we say to all the good people of Venezuela, ‘Estamos con ustedes,’ we are with you.” While Pence says he is delivering the message on behalf of Trump and the American people, the U.S. president does not participate in the video.
This message comes hot on the heels of an apparent uprising by members of the national guard yesterday. Nicolas Maduro’s security forces arrested 27 guardsmen, according to the government’s statement to the media, but that might not be the end of it. Reports that a number of military troops abandoning posts to cross the Colombian border and organize for a mutiny are still percolating:
A group of unidentified men saying they are friends of the Venezuelan military appears in a video saying they are preparing an advance into Venezuela to help unseat embattled President Nicolas Maduro and restore democracy.
The video was released in Colombia hours after Venezuela’s socialist government announced it had arrested 27 National Guard soldiers for allegedly launching an uprising against Maduro.
The video was played late Monday on NTN-TV in Colombia’s capital and shows roughly two dozen men wearing combat fatigues, but unarmed. The Associated Press could not independently verify where the soldiers were located or their identities.
Why now? Well, why not now is also a valid question, but the Maduro regime precipitated this crisis by attempting to prorogue its opposition-led assembly. Its Supreme Court, fully in Maduro’s hands, declared the assembly unconstitutional and all its acts invalid yesterday:
Hours later, the government-stacked Supreme Court said it was throwing out recent measures by the National Assembly that declared Maduro’s presidency illegitimate, deepening a standoff with the opposition-controlled legislature.
The justices ruled that the new leadership of congress itself is invalid, and urged the country’s chief prosecutor to investigate whether congressional leaders had acted criminally in openly defying the nation’s constitution.
Juan Guaido, a 35-year-old newly seated as president of congress, shrugged off the court’s warning and reiterated his call for people to take to the streets Wednesday — a historic date commemorating the end of Venezuela’s military dictatorship in 1958 — to demand Maduro abandon power.
“The National Assembly is the only institution elected by the people of Venezuela,” Guaido said at a press conference at the legislature.
Maduro won’t step down without a fight. If he gets deposed, Maduro has to know that he’d be the first person imprisoned by whatever “caretaker” government follows his collapse, and imprisoned might be among his cheerier options. South American dictators who get deposed have a tendency to reach room temperature prematurely, although recently the trend has been to prosecute them rather than put them up against the wall.
That leaves the big question: Did Maduro actually stop a mutiny, or did he just play whack-a-mole with one small part of it? There have been an increasing number of incidents that suggest that Venezuela’s generals might be tiring of the tyranny and instability, perhaps only a little slower than among the rank and file. The Trump administration is about to add Venezuela to its list of state sponsors of terrorism, which would carry with it sanctions on the oil industry, the country’s last lifeline of support. A boycott of Venezuelan oil would cripple Maduro’s regime, but more importantly cripple its military. The generals might take Pence’s video here as a warning that winter is coming, and that the time is ripe for a little Game of Thrones.