Venezuela: US doing everything short of ‘the ultimate’, says Trump as protests continue

The United States is doing everything short of “the ultimate” to resolve Venezuela’s crisis, Donald Trump has vowed, after clashes between protesters and security forces in Caracas resulted in the death of one woman and injuries to 46 others.

As tens of thousands of Venezuelan returned to the streets on Wednesday following a dramatic but fruitless bid to force Nicolás Maduro from power, Juan Guaidó told demonstrators in the capital, Caracas, they needed to intensify their “peaceful rebellion” against Maduro.

“Every day there will be acts of protest until we achieve our liberty,” Guaidó announced. “They thought they could suffocate our protest yesterday and they failed. We will remain in the streets until Venezuela is free.”

Jurubith Rausseo, 27, died at a clinic after being hit in the head by a bullet during a demonstration, the non-governmental Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict said on Twitter. Human rights organisations and health services reported 46 people injured in Wednesday’s clashes.

In an interview with Fox News, the US president, who is Guaidó’s most powerful international backer, vowed to continue supporting him in his battle against Maduro, who Trump called “a tough player”.

“We are doing everything we can do, short of, you know, the ultimate,” Trump said, adding: “There are people who would like to have us do the ultimate.”

Asked what the options were, Trump said: “Well, some of them I don’t even like to mention to you because they are pretty tough.”

“It’s an incredible mess … The place is so bad and so dangerous … so something is going to have to be done,” the US president added in the rambling 10-minute interview.

“A lot of things will be going on over the next week and sooner than that. We will see what happens.”

Earlier, anti-Maduro protesters once again hit the streets in towns and cities across Venezuela to demand the exit of a politician they blame for leading their country into political and economic chaos.

“Before this year I’d never come out to march but I’m doing it now because I am certain that we will get Maduro out,” said Coromoto Méndez, a 50-year-old beauty salon owner, as she joined the demonstrations in Caracas.

“We have to support this and finish what we have started. Even the Chavistas are asking for change,” Méndez added.

“I have faith and I believe that we have a leader who is taking us on the right path … Each day the people feel more hope and faith.”

But in a defiant televised address late on Tuesday, Hugo Chávez’s heir insisted he had seen off Tuesday’s attempt to topple him with the backing of “loyal and obedient” members of Venezuela’s Bolivarian armed forces.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Member of the National Guard throws an object towards opposition supporters on Wednesday. Photograph: STRINGER/Reuters
Flanked by Venezuela’s military and political elite, Maduro blamed Venezuela’s “coup-mongering far right” and Donald Trump’s deranged imperialist “gang” for what he called Tuesday’s attempted coup.

“I truly believe … that the United States of America has never had a government as deranged as this one,” Maduro said in his hour-long pronouncement, calling Guaidó and his team “useful idiots” of the empire.

Maduro also denied claims from the US secretary of state Mike Pompeo that he had been preparing to flee Venezuela for Cuba on Tuesday morning, until he was told to stay put by his Russian backers. “Señor Pompeo, please,” Maduro said.

Guaidó counter-attacked at Wednesday’s demonstrations, insisting Maduro was “already defeated” and urging protesters not to lose hope.

But the opposition leader admitted he could not say how many hours, days or weeks remained before Maduro would be gone and told demonstrators they were likely to face growing repression.

“Hard days lie ahead,” Guaidó warned.

A spokesperson for the UN Human Rights Office voiced similar concerns on Wednesday amid reports of clashes between demonstrators and security forces in eastern Caracas.

“The UN Human Rights Office is extremely worried by reports of excessive use of force by security forces against demonstrators across Venezuela that has allegedly resulted in dozens injured,” Marta Hurtado said in a statement.

“Many have also reportedly been detained,” Hurtado added.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Anti-government protesters returns a tear gas canister during clashes with security forces on Wednesday. Photograph: Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images
At a pro-Maduro march winding through central Caracas to the presidential palace, Raiza Castillo, 40, was scornful of the opposition’s chances. “They’re out of touch with reality,” she said. “And we know that if [the opposition] get into power, the first thing they’ll do is get rid of all the benefits and improvements that we have won.”

Nearby, Tanía Díaz, the head of communications for Maduro’s PSUV party, said: “For 20 years, the extreme right has tried to take power by force and not through democracy. What we saw yesterday followed the same pattern of hybrid warfare: terrorist actions with a few figureheads out in front – in this case Guaidó and [his political mentor Leopoldo] López”.

There was consensus among analysts on Wednesday that Guaidó had failed in his main objective on Tuesday.

“Juan Guaidó bluffed and he was badly defeated … this was a disastrous operation,” Eliane Cantanhêde, a prominent Brazilian journalist, argued in the Estado de São Paulo newspaper.

Benjamin Gedan, the national security council’s Venezuela adviser during the Obama presidency, said: “It seems clear that the hope from Guaidó and López was a massive uprising in the intelligence services and the military which would have compelled Maduro to leave power immediately. To the extent that it is judged based on its objectives, it was an utter failure.”

But that was not to say Maduro’s crisis-stricken government was out of danger.

“I see no signs of stalemate. To the contrary, I see a government with a fragile hold on power facing increasing dissent in its ranks,” Gedan added.

David Smilde, a Venezuela expert from the Washington Office on Latin America, said the defection of the head of Venezuela’s intelligence services, Sebin, showed Maduro’s military support was fragile.

Jair Bolsonaro said Brazilian intelligence suggested “there is indeed a fracture which is moving closer and closer to the top of the armed forces.

“So it is possible the government will collapse because some of those at the top switch sides,” Bolsonaro added.

The US national security adviser, John Bolton, also claimed the Maduro regime was close to falling.

“Our judgment is that the overwhelming number of military service members in the country support Juan Guaidó and the opposition,” Bolton told Fox & Friends, Donald Trump’s favourite morning television talk show.

“It’s just a matter of time before they come over the opposition and some of that could happen today.”