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How Guaido plans to increase pressure on Maduro to resign

After leaving Venezuela to garner outside support, opposition leader Juan Guaido risked arrest when he returned home. He arrived safely on Monday in Caracas, where he was greeted by crowds of supporters. Nick Schifrin talks to Carlos Vecchio, recognized by Guaido and the Trump administration as Venezuela's U.S. ambassador, about strategy for "increasing the pressure" on President Maduro to resign.

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  • William Brangham:

    Venezuela's main opposition leader, Juan Guaido, returned to his country today, a week after deadly clashes erupted over aid shipments delivered to his nation's borders.

    Today, thousands gathered in the streets of Caracas, the capital, to welcome home the man the U.S. considers the rightful president of Venezuela. Guaido says he will continue his effort to unseat sitting President Nicolas Maduro.

    Nick Schifrin has this update.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Juan Guaido had kept details of his travel back into the country secret, fearing the Maduro government might arrest him. The U.S. had warned it would impose a — quote — "strong and significant response" if anything happened to him.

    But Guaido arrived safely in Caracas, and urged his supporters to intensify their campaign against Maduro.

  • Juan Guaido:

    They threaten all of us here. They threatened me with jail and death. It will not be through persecution, it will not be through threats they will hold us back. We are here, and we're more united than ever. We are here and are stronger than ever.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The U.S. has been supporting Guaido even before he declared himself interim president on January 23. But, so far, Maduro has resisted pressure to step down, and doesn't appear to be going anywhere.

    So, what's next and where does the opposition go from here?

    To talk about that, I'm joined by Carlos Vecchio, Guaido's representative here in Washington, who is recognized by the administration as the Venezuelan ambassador.

    Thank you very much for being on the "NewsHour."

  • Carlos Vecchio:

    Thank you for having me.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So far, Maduro has resisted international diplomatic pressure, massive political protests in the streets, major sanctions,and an effort to force in humanitarian aid.

    So, what can you realistically to increase the pressure and oust Maduro?

  • Carlos Vecchio:

    Well, what we saw today tells you that we're in the right path.

    I mean, we have a man of his word. He said and he promised to the people of Venezuela that he would return to Venezuela. He did it. And this makes us stronger. And I think the regime is weaker. And we need to increase all the pressure at the street levels with demonstrations.

    We are calling for a new demonstration this coming Saturday. We will need to increase our pressure at the level of the National Assembly, which Islamist only elected institution in Venezuela, and also from the international community.

    And if we increase the level of pressure in these three different levels, I think we could find a peaceful solution in Venezuela. That's what we want.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    If those three elements of pressure doesn't work, would you support a military intervention?

  • Carlos Vecchio:

    I would say we want to work with these three different levels.

    Nobody wants a war. We have a war in place right now. Maduro has created a manmade disaster in Venezuela. We are having the consequence of having a war with a war in certain way. And he's trying to push to that scenario. And we need to avoid it. That's why we need to increase the pressure now.

    We have the opportunity to avoid a war right now. So we need to increase that pressure if we want to find a peaceful solution in Venezuela. But, of course, all the options will be on the table, but the main obstacle for a peaceful solution in Venezuela is Maduro. That's why we need to increase the pressure now.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    One of the points of pressure, of course, will be economic. The economy is expected to collapse even more than it already has in the coming months, thanks to U.S. sanctions.

    Do you fear that, as that economic pressure increases, the people of Venezuela will be hurt even more before Maduro is ousted?

  • Carlos Vecchio:

    I would say that the worst sanction that Venezuela has is Maduro.

    All this disaster started a long way ago, even before the sanctions were imposed. So, if Maduro continues in power, you will see a catastrophe in Venezuela. You will see more than five million people out of Venezuela.

    So, that's why we need to stop that. It's enough. Twenty years has been too much. We have a huge opportunity in front of us in order to recover our democracy. So the time to increase the pressure is now to avoid exactly what we are seeing right now in Venezuela.

    Maduro has imposed 10 million percent of inflation. We don't have any sanction from the U.S., any sanction, and Maduro has imposed 80 percent of poverty in Venezuela. The economic collapse is twice the size of the Great Depression the U.S. had during the '30s.

    So, the problem is Maduro. And if we want to resolve the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, we need to recover our democracy. We need to end the usurpation of power of Maduro. And that's why we are pushing this pressure in Venezuela on the streets.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The military will be much of the linchpin here. A lot of people describe the military's support of Maduro as really the only reason that he can maintain power.

    Have you had any talks directly with the military leadership?

  • Carlos Vecchio:

    We have been talking with them publicly.

    Juan Guaido is the new commander in chief of the armed force. And we are telling them, I mean, you need to support the constitution. You need to back the new president of Venezuela. You need to be on the side of the people who are suffering.

    And the majority of the soldiers, troops, they are with us, because they are Venezuelans. They are suffering the same thing that all the united people are suffering. So they know the reality. And at the end of the day, I will — they will support what we are doing. They will support the change in Venezuela.

    And I don't have any doubt that the military, at the end of the day, will support what we are doing.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But, as you know, the commanders of military, the leadership of the military…

  • Carlos Vecchio:

    You mean the top? Yes.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The top of the military does still support Maduro and gets…

  • Carlos Vecchio:

    Yes.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    … quite a lot of economic, diplomatic, political incentives from the government.

  • Carlos Vecchio:

    They are loyal, until they aren't. That has been our history.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So, how do you — what's the tipping point? How do you convince them not to be loyal?

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Carlos Vecchio:

    I would say, if we increase the level of pressure in these three different levels, on the streets, from the National Assembly, from the international community, that will help to move also the military force to back what we are doing in Venezuela.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Much of the pressure, of course, has come from the U.S. Much of the support you receive has come from the U.S.

    Do you fear that gives Maduro a convenient excuse, where he can say, look, it's the Yankees who are doing this, and that's part of the problem?

  • Carlos Vecchio:

    I would say that he's manipulating that.

    That is not the reality.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But is it not true that the U.S. is supporting you, supporting Guaido?

  • Carlos Vecchio:

    No, no, it has become a strong ally.

    But I would say that this is a movement led by Venezuelans, under the leadership of Juan Guaido as interim president. The people that you saw in that video, are they Americans? No, they are Venezuelans.

    Who was just talking before of them — before them? Trump? No, Juan Guaido. He is mobilizing the people. So, this is the agenda which has been set by us. And, of course, we are getting the support of the international community, and not only from the U.S., from the most important Latin American countries, and also from the European countries.

    So this is a fight between democracy and dictatorship. This is a fight between the free world and the regime of Maduro. So that's the way we see it.

    And I feel so proud to be a Venezuelan and a Latino, because the cause of Venezuela is taking place in our country, because of the courage of our people. They're putting their life at risk right now, including Juan Guaido, in order to achieve our democracy.

    So we need to respect that. And getting the support of the U.S., that's good. And it has become, as I said, an important ally on this, but, I mean, this is beyond the U.S.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Carlos Vecchio, recognized as the ambassador by this administration, thank you very much.

  • Carlos Vecchio:

    Thank you for this time.

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