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World

Guaidó Calls For Military To Oust Maduro

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we'd like to spend a few minutes reviewing what happened this week in Venezuela. This week, opposition leader Juan Guaido again called on Venezuela's military to back him over President Nicolas Maduro. There were clashes in the streets, and some military personnel did come to his side. But so far, the majority of the armed forces seem to remain in support of the regime. So in another show of support for Guaido, whom the Trump administration considers the legitimate or interim president, Trump administration officials repeated that, quote, unquote, "all options are on the table," a hint at some unspecified military intervention - or possible military intervention.

We wanted to try to decipher what all this means, so we've called Tim Padgett. He's the Americas editor for member station WLRN. He's reported on Latin America for nearly three decades. And he's with us now from Miami. Tim Padgett, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

TIM PADGETT, BYLINE: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: So just give me your top lines, and then we'll kind of drill down. First of all, how do you read the political situation there? I mean, I know people have been looking for a tipping point for some time now. Was this week it possibly, or not?

PADGETT: No, because taking down dictatorships takes time and unfortunately, more time than I think the Trump administration, for example, was willing to give this. The military is the key here. You've got to get the military turned away to abandon Maduro. That takes a lot of methodical and careful negotiation. It takes time. And unfortunately, as I said, I don't know if the Trump administration is willing to commit that kind of time and patience and work to this.

MARTIN: You said in a piece that you wrote earlier this week that - you said each time Guaido vastly overestimated and vastly oversold the desire of the army brass to tip their red berets in his direction. So did his Washington backers. I'm wondering if you think this is a Guaido problem, or is it a Washington problem. Is it that Guaido is overselling it - the case - or is the Trump administration lacking the patience or the sort of historical context to read the tea leaves correctly in your view?

PADGETT: It's both. I think Guaido knows that he's on a long haul mission, as I said in that piece. Unfortunately, I think he's feeling a lot of pressure from particularly the United States to create a very expedited, let's say, sort of regime change. And so when he comes to moments like in January, when he declared himself president, in February, when he tried to push humanitarian aid from Colombia into Venezuela hoping that that would turn the military in his favor, and then again on Tuesday, when he just suddenly appeared at a Caracas airbase and declared this is the final phase of Operation Liberty, yes.

He has tended to overestimate if - as I said, oversell - the military's commitment to abandoning Maduro because I don't think at this point the military, particularly the high-command - people like Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino - they haven't been yet sold on the fact that if they do turn in Guaido's direction, they're going to be safe.

MARTIN: So what are you keeping your eyes on?

PADGETT: As we said before, the military, particularly Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino. And he's a very complicated character. He's U.S. trained, for example. Back in the '80s, he had some training as a military officer here in the United States. But he's also very closely aligned with Russia because he does see himself as sort of a military defender of Venezuela against what's often called the imperialists from the north, meaning the United States.

What I'm hearing from many people, for example, expat leaders here in the diaspora who are in constant contact with Guaido and his team in Venezuela, what they're hearing is that Padrino particularly wants the sort of deal that would not necessitate him having to leave Venezuela. But that's the kind of psychological factor you're dealing with here that we have to adjust to if we're going to break the military down and have it defect from Maduro.

MARTIN: That's Tim Padgett, Americas editor for WLRN in Miami. Tim Padgett, thanks so much for talking to us.

PADGETT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.