WHITE HOUSE – Cindy Saine at the State Department contributed to this report.
White House officials are anxiously watching what they acknowledged is a tipping point in Venezuela, hoping for a groundswell of support there by citizens and the military that would peacefully allow Juan Guaido to quickly take power from Nicolas Maduro.
President Donald Trump tweeted he is “monitoring the situation in Venezuela very closely.” A few minutes later, his national security adviser spoke to reporters outside the West Wing to say Trump is following what John Bolton termed “a very serious situation” minute by minute.
What is happening in the country is confusing and the U.S. government is receiving conflicting information, according to the State Department’s special representative for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams.
Bolton, further indicating the uncertainty of success for Guaido, who is backed by the United States and dozens of other countries, called for Venezuela’s defense minister, its supreme court chief judge and the commander of the presidential guard “to act this afternoon or evening” and support the action to remove Maduro from power.
At a State Department briefing, Abrams said it appears the three top-level Maduro officials are not going forward with what they had promised during internal Venezuelan negotiations.
“If this effort fails, they will sink into a dictatorship from which there are very few possible alternatives,” predicted Bolton.
The Trump administration blames Cuban and Russian support for maintaining Maduro, who has been in power since 2013, succeeding the late Hugo Chavez, who had come to power in 1998 by winning an election following his unsuccessful coup attempt.
“We expect the Russians not to interfere in Venezuela,” Bolton warned.
In response to a VOA question about what happens next if Guaido is not able to prevail on Tuesday, Bolton replied it is possible the current situation could persist.
“We don’t see any indication that there’s any substantial part of the military that’s ready to fire on innocent civilians, their fellow countrymen,” added Bolton.
The national security adviser downplayed a televised scene of a military vehicle running over demonstrators who had been pelting the armored personnel carrier with stones.
“It could be an isolated incident,” he said.
Bolton declined to say what kind of support the United States is currently providing on the ground besides humanitarian assistance.
As he and the president have emphasized repeatedly for months, Bolton said all options remain on the table when asked about the possibility of U.S. military intervention.
“I’m simply not going to be more specific to that,” he added.
Administration officials say Guaido’s attempt to take power should not be regarded as a coup attempt because the national assembly leader is already recognized as the head of state by Western governments.
Besides Cuba and Russia, countries such as China and Turkey continue to regard Maduro as Venezuela’s president.