Berlin/Buenos Aires, 4 February 2019 (MIA/dpa) – With hours to go until a deadline passes for Nicolas Maduro to call fresh elections or lose yet more support on the world stage, the Venezuelan leader alluded to a possible civil war in comments to media.
No one can say with certainty what the risks are of such a scenario unfolding, he told the La Sexta broadcaster in an interview set to be broadcast on Sunday evening. Excerpts of the interview were released in Spanish print media earlier in the day.
“Everything depends on the degree of insanity and aggressiveness of the northern imperialists [United States] and its Western allies,” he said.
“We simply live in our country and ask that nobody intervene in internal affairs. And we are preparing ourselves to defend our country,” Maduro said in the interview conducted Friday.
He added that people in factories, universities and other civic spheres are preparing for combat.
US President Donald Trump said in an interview broadcast Sunday that the use of military force in Venezuela remained “an option.” Trump also said Maduro requested a meeting with him “a number of months ago” and he turned it down.
“I decided at the time, no, because so many really horrible things have been happening in Venezuela, when you look at that country,” he said in the interview conducted Friday with broadcaster CBS.
On the same day Trump tweeted about protests in Venezuela, saying “the fight for freedom has begun.”
An eight-day deadline for Maduro to declare fresh elections is set to run out on Sunday, after which eight EU countries have said they will follow the US and numerous other countries in recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaido as president.
Guaido, the leader of the National Assembly, declared himself interim head of state on January 23.
“If by this evening Mr Maduro has not committed to organizing presidential elections, we will consider that Mr Guaido has the legitimacy to organize them instead,” France’s Europe minister Nathalie Loiseau told RTL radio in Paris.
Loiseau rejected any suggestion of holding early parliamentary elections instead, saying Maduro wanted to “get rid of the president of the parliament, Mr Guaido, who has the support of the demonstrators.”
Austria on Sunday became the eighth EU country, alongside Germany, France, Britain, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and Belgium, to threaten to recognize the opposition leader if Maduro failed to call elections.
Maduro has dismissed the demands as an “impertinence,” telling supporters at a rally on Saturday “I am the true president of Venezuela.”
In the interview with the Spanish broadcaster, his response to the European deadline was, “We do not accept an ultimatum from anyone.”
Maduro, the successor to left-wing populist leader Hugo Chavez, won a second term in May in an election widely seen as undemocratic, and was inaugurated in January.
He has presided over an economic disaster, with millions of Venezuelans fleeing abroad to escape hyperinflation and food and medicine shortages.
At least 35 people have died in protests since January and around 850 arrests have been made, according to media reports.
Though a high-ranking air force general on Saturday disavowed Maduro, the president enjoys the support of the military and the country’s security services. He is also backed by Russia, China, Turkey, Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua.