Russia could secretly install nuclear missiles in Venezuela if the Maduro regime is allowed to continue, a US Republican congressman claimed – hours after the country nearly descended into civil war.
Mario Diaz-Balart made the claims after Venezuela’s US-backed opposition leader, Juan Guaido, called for his rival President Nicolas Maduro to be expelled from office.
As part of his justification for U.S. military intervention in the deepening crisis, Diaz-Balart told Fox News that if Maduro was to stay in power it could be an ‘open door for the Russians and for the Chinese and for others to increase their activity against our national security interest’.
The claims come as a photojournalist was reportedly shot during running battles between anti-government protesters and troops loyal to the embattled president.
A video posted on social media showed a photographer wearing a bulletproof vest and lying on the back of a truck with blood pouring from either the side of his body or an arm wound.
A tweet accompanying the clip claimed he was shot by one of the Venezuelan National Guard (GNB) in Caracas today.
A US Republican congressman has claimed that Russia could install nuclear missiles in Venezuela, hours after the country was on the brink of civil war as opposition leader Juan Guaido (pictured) called for President Nicolas Maduro to be ousted
Security forces confront anti-government protesters during clashes in the surroundings of La Carlota military base in Caracas
Security forces confront anti-government protesters during clashes in the surroundings of La Carlota military base in Caracas
An anti-government protester throwing a rock toward pro-regime security forces during violent clashes in Caracas
Protesters, one carrying a homemade mortar, take cover as security forces fire tear gas to disperse demonstrators in Caracas
An anti-government protester launches a Molotov cocktail at National Guard forces outside La Carlota airbase
The photographer was seen with blood pouring from what was reported to be a bullet wound sustained during clashes between anti-government protesters and the Venezuelan National Guard
Venezuelan VPITV journalist Gregory Jaimes (centre) was also injured. He is seen her being helped by colleagues after being injured during clashes of anti-government protesters and security forces
Jaimes was carried away by colleagues in a separate incident during violent clashes in Caracas
— CNW (@ConflictsW) May 1, 2019
The injured photographer received medial treatment and was surrounded by paramedics who loaded him into the back of a vehicle and drove from the scene.
Earlier today Diaz-Balart claimed Russian, Chinese, Iranians and Hezbollah were already in Venezuela and could used the country as a platform to attack the United States.
When asked during a Fox News interview on Wednesday whether he believed Vladimir Putin would invade the U.S., Diaz-Balart said: ‘The closest we ever came to nuclear war was because the Russians put missiles, right, nuclear missiles in Cuba.’
Journalist Tucker Carlson continued his line of questioning and asked: ‘Are you saying the Russians will put nuclear missiles in Venezuela?’
Mr Diaz-Balart then replied: ‘What I am suggesting is that they are already there’.
While he gave no evidence to support his claims, Putin’s support of Venezuelan President Maduro has been previously compared to the situation which preempted the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis – which saw nuclear-armed Soviet missiles installed in Cuba.
The claims also come hours after Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said Juan Guaido was not defeated in his attempt to overthrow the leftist regime of Nicolas Maduro.
Bolsonaro said a ‘crack’ had been opened that could bring down the Venezuelan government.
Protesters launch missiles at the Venezuelan National Guard as violence outside the La Carlota military base in Caracas raged for a second day
Anti-government protesters work together to light a firework in a homemade mortar, during clashes with security forces in Caracas
Smoke fills the air as Juan Guaido supporters clash with pro-Maduro troops from the National Guard who used tear gas on demonstrators
Anti-government protesters clash with security forces in the surroundings of La Carlota military base in Caracas during the commemoration of May Day
When asked whether he thought Russia would put nuclear missiles in Venezuela, in a similar manner to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, Mario Diaz-Balart said: ‘What I’m suggesting is that they already have’
TV journalist Gregory Jaimes was injured during clashes and was left covered in blood as he was carried away during from the violence
Protesters take cover during clashes with security forces who are firing tear gas from La Carlota airbase
Mario Diaz-Balart made the unsupported claims hours after Venezuela nearly descended into civil war
He said today during a meeting discussing the Venezuelan crisis at the defence ministry: ‘This is by no means a defeat, I recognise the patriotic and democratic spirit of Juan Guaido in his struggle for the freedom of his country.
‘We have information that there is a crack, getting closer and closer to the armed forces. There is the possibility that the government could collapse,’ he added.
But General Augusto Heleno, the minister for institutional security and a close adviser to Bolsonaro, was more sceptical in an interview with Brazilian news site G1, describing Tuesday’s uprising as a ‘disorganised movement that looked like a fight between football fans.’
Heleno warned it was ‘a road with no return.’
A defiant President Maduro said late last night that the attempted coup had failed and he promised criminal prosecutions over the ‘serious crimes that have been committed.’
At least 25 Venezuelan troops have applied for asylum in Brazil’s embassy in Caracas, Bolsonaro’s office confirmed earlier.
Tensions in Venezuela have soared since Guaido, who heads the National Assembly, announced on January 23 that he was the acting president under the constitution as Maduro had been fraudulently re-elected last year.
Brazil and the United States are among dozens of countries that have recognised Guaido as Venezuela’s president.
Guaido’s call on Tuesday for troops to join him in his campaign to oust Maduro was backed by the United States, which said it is prepared to take military action to stem the crisis, if necessary.
Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, says that military action in Venezuela ‘is possible’ raising fears of conflict with Russia, which heavily backs Nicolas Maduro’s regime and is thought to have mercenaries in the country guarding him
Anti-government protesters on a highway clash with President Maduro’s security forces
A lone shirtless government opponent walking towards military vehicles in a confrontation between Guaido supporters and troops loyal to Maduro
Anti-government protesters charge at security forces armoured vehicle in Caracas
Anti-government protesters prepare for the confrontation with pro-regime forces with a helmet, gas mask and homemade mortar launcher
An anti-government protester being carried away as he suffers from the effects of tear gas launched by security forces outside La Carlota airbase
A demonstrator gets sprayed with the full force of a water cannon during clashes during May Day protests today
An anti-government protester runs from an oncoming National Guard armoured vehicle during clashes between the two side in Caracas
Demonstrators cheers in front of a burning military vehicle during clashes with Maduro’s security forces
Supporters of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro take part in a demonstration in Caracas
The ongoing tension in the country prompted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to say that American military action in Venezuela is a possibility ‘if that’s what’s required’.
Pompeo, speaking on Fox Business, said America would prefer not to intervene, but added: ‘The president has been crystal clear and incredibly consistent. Military action is possible. If that’s what’s required, that’s what the United States will do.’
Any military action by America would raise the prospect of conflict with Russia, which is a staunch ally of the Maduro regime and is thought to have mercenaries in the country protecting the President.
Pompeo spoke out as Guaido urged protesters on to the streets for a second day of action, after declaring the start of a ‘military uprising’ on Tuesday that descended into a series of bloody clashes in the capital Caracas and elsewhere that left at least one dead and 100 injured.
Trump ally John Bolton told a radio show today that Maduro and his top military allies were hiding out at a compound called Fort Tiuna, being protected by Cuban forces.
Guaido promised the ‘largest march’ in Venezuela’s history as he branded Maduro ‘a tyrant who locks himself away in fear’ in a videotaped rallying cry posted on Twitter overnight Tuesday.
Juan Guaido issued a rallying cry to his supporters via Twitter on Tuesday night in which he urged people back on to the streets for fresh May Day protests against Nicolas Maduro, following a day of violent clashes in Caracas
Guaido launched what he called the ‘final phase of Operation Liberty’ to force Maduro from power on Tuesday before demonstration in Caracas descended into violence (pictured, masked and armed supporters of Maduro in the capital)
Members of the Bolivarian National Guard who joined Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed acting president Juan Guaido fire into the air to repel forces loyal to President Nicolas Maduro
Supports of Juan Guaido prepare Molotov cocktails outside La Carlota airbase to be launched at the pro-regime forces of the Bolivarian National Guard
An anti-government protester wearing a cycle helmet shooting from a homemade mortar at security forces
A Venezuelan National Guard vehicle fires a water cannon at anti-government demonstrators
Paramedics carry a woman protesting on the pro-Juan Guaido side after she was injured in a clash with police forces
Demonstrators scattering as a crowd flees the National Guard as tear gas is fired into their number
A member of the pro-Maduro security forces fires his weapon during clashes with demonstrators
Supporters of Venezuela’s President Maduro at a rally in support of his government and to commemorate May Day in Caracas
The pair are locked in a battle for control of the military, which will be key to deciding Venezuela’s future. While Guaido claimed he is ‘the legitimate commander of the armed forces’ in his video, Maduro used his his own TV address to insist that he retains control of the troops.
Asked about the violence, Pompeo said: ‘It’s our hope that violence levels will remain low. We saw violence today, we regret that, we’re watching to see who chooses violence and who’s choosing other means. We’ll hold those folks accountable when the time comes.’
He also said that everything possible was being done to protect Guaido, who gave rallies to supporters on Tuesday, and promised a ‘strong reaction’ if he is harmed.
Pompeo was also due to speak with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, on Wednesday about the situation in Venezuela, according to National Security Adviser John Bolton.
It comes after the Secretary of State claimed that Maduro wanted to leave the country on a plane Tuesday, but was told to stay in place by Moscow, calling the intervention ‘unwelcome’.
Bolton elaborated on those remarks, adding: ‘This is our hemisphere. ‘It’s not where the Russians ought to be interfering. This is a mistake on their part. It’s not going to lead to an improvement of relations.’
Washington’s acting defence chief Patrick Shanahan has cancelled a planned trip to Europe as he deals with the Venezuela crisis.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaking during a May Day rally in Caracas. Opposition supporters demonstrated for a second consecutive day in support of their country’s self-proclaimed leader Juan Guaido as he bids to overthrow Maduro
Guaido and Maduro are wrestling for control of Venezuela’s military, which will be key to deciding its future. A small band of troops have defected to the opposition leader (pictured) but the majority seemed to remain loyal to Maduro
Pro-Guaido supporters are seen near the La Carlota airbase in the capital Caracas, which was seized by those loyal to the opposition leader on Tuesday, and formed the focal point of clashes
A woman cries out as National Police drive away with detained anti-government protesters on a motorcycles
Venezuelan National Guards throw tear gas to Pro-Juan Guaido demonstrators as they build a barricade in the street during a demonstration at Plaza Altamira in Caracas
Government security forces fired tear gas at demonstrators and on at least one occasion opened fire with live ammunition, though there were no reports of casualties
Police officers who switched loyalty from the government to back Guaido and his supporters stand guard in front of the group of demonstrators in Caracas
Anti-government protesters collect paving stones to throw during clashes with security forces in Caracas
Dirty, smoke and projectiles can be seen flying through the air as security forces and demonstrators clash in Caracas
An anti-government protester is carried away after he was affected by tear gas launched by security forces outside La Carlota military base
In his own address to Venezuelans on Tuesday night, Guaido issued a rallying cry for his ‘uprising’.
In footage posted on Twitter, he said: ‘My fellow Venezuelans, good evening. This is your acting president Juan Guaido, the legitimate commander of the armed forces.
‘The regime’s claim that it has control of the arms forces is a farce. Maduro does not have the backing, nor the respect of the armed forces.
‘Nor does it of the Venezuelan people because it (government) doesn’t protect anyone, doesn’t provide results, doesn’t provide solutions.
He continued: ‘Tomorrow, May 1, we will continue with this, we will continue out on the street, in meeting points throughout Venezuela. We will be out on the streets, we will see you out on the streets, on our territory.
‘This is not a coup in Venezuela but rather a peaceful (transition), like that we saw today, against a tyrant who locks himself away in fear…
‘We Venezuelans have the chance to conquer our futures, for the definitive phase of Operation Liberty, for an end to the usurpation. Tomorrow, all of Venezuela to the streets.’
At least one high-ranking official announced he was breaking with Maduro and joining Guaido on Tuesday, in the most serious setback so-far for the embattled President.
In a Tuesday night appearance on national television, Mr Maduro declared that the opposition had attempted to impose an ‘illegitimate government’ with the support of the United States and neighbouring Colombia.
He said Venezuela had been a victim of ‘aggression of all kinds’.
The competing quests to solidify a hold on power capped a dramatic day that included a tense moment when several armoured vehicles ploughed into a group of anti-government demonstrators trying to storm the capital’s air base, hitting at least two protesters.
Pro-Government military forces face off with pro-Guaido supporters close to the La Carlota airbase in the capital Caracas
A pro-Guaido supporter holds a tear gas canister near La Carlota airbase where hundred of people gathered to confront Pro-Government military forces
At one point armoured cars of the National Guard (GNB), which has largely remained loyal to Maduro, drove at protesters and ran several of them over
Demonstrations against Maduro spread around the world following Guaido’s rallying cry, as police clashed with crowds in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Tuesday night
Venezuelan citizens protest against President Nicolas Maduro outside the Venezuelan embassy in San Jose, California
An anti-government protester uses binoculars to look at National Guard forces outside La Carlota airbase during clashes between the two sides in Caracas
US National Security Adviser John Bolton said the Trump administration was waiting for three key officials, including Mr Maduro’s defence minister and head of the supreme court, to act on what he said were private pledges to remove Mr Maduro. He did not provide details.
The stunning events began early Tuesday when Mr Guaido, flanked by a few dozen national guardsmen and some armoured crowd-control vehicles, released the three-minute video shot near the Carlota air base.
In a surprise, Leopoldo Lopez, Mr Guaido’s political mentor and the nation’s most prominent opposition activist, stood alongside him.
Detained in 2014 for leading a previous round of anti-government unrest, Mr Lopez said he had been released from house arrest by security forces adhering to an order from Mr Guaido.
‘I want to tell the Venezuelan people: This is the moment to take to the streets and accompany these patriotic soldiers,’ Mr Lopez declared.
As the two opposition leaders coordinated actions from an overpass, troops loyal to Mr Maduro fired tear gas from inside the adjacent air base.
A crowd that quickly swelled to a few thousand scurried for cover, reappearing later with Mr Guaido at a plaza a few blocks from the disturbances.
A smaller group of masked youths stayed behind, lobbing rocks and Molotov cocktails toward the air base and setting a government bus on fire.
Amid the mayhem, several armoured utility vehicles careened over a berm and drove at full speed into the crowd.
Two demonstrators, lying on the ground with their heads and legs bloodied, were rushed away on a motorcycle as the vehicles sped away dodging fireballs thrown by the demonstrators.
‘It’s now or never,’ said one of the young rebellious soldiers, his face covered in the blue bandanna worn by the few dozen insurgent soldiers.
The head of a medical centre near the site of the street battles said doctors were treating 50 people, about half of them with injuries suffered from rubber bullets.
At least one person had been shot with live ammunition. Venezuelan human rights group Provea said a 24-year-old man was shot and killed during an anti-government protest in the city of La Victoria.
Later on Tuesday, Mr Lopez and his family sought refuge in the Chilean ambassador’s residence in Caracas, where another political ally has been holed up for over a year. They later moved to the Spanish embassy. There were also reports that 25 troops who had been with Mr Guaido fled to Brazil’s diplomatic mission.
Amid the confusion, Mr Maduro tried to project an image of strength, saying he had spoken to several regional military commanders who reaffirmed their loyalty.
‘Nerves of steel!’ he said in a message posted on Twitter.
Flanked by top military commanders, Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez condemned Mr Guaido’s move as a ‘terrorist’ act and ‘coup attempt’ that was bound to fail like past uprisings.
‘Those who try to take Miraflores with violence will be met with violence,’ he said on national television, referring to the presidential palace where hundreds of government supporters, some of them brandishing firearms, had gathered in response to a call to defend Mr Maduro.
President Nicolas Maduro, left, flanked by three of Venezuela’s most senior military figures, give a TV address asserting his control over the country and denouncing what he called a coup by ‘fascists and the extreme right’
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s supporters gather holding banners and flags during a demonstration in Caracas
Maduro and his supporters (pictured) argue that Guaido’s ‘uprising’ is actually a right-wing coup by American ‘imperialists’ to destroy the socialist regime
Thousands of pro-Maduro activists march through the streets of Caracas on Tuesday, where clashes broke out with Guaido’s supporters with fear of more violence on Wednesday
enezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s supporters gather holding banners and flags in the capital Caracas
But in a possible sign that Mr Maduro’s inner circle could be fracturing, the head of Venezuela’s secret police penned a letter breaking ranks with the embattled leader.
Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera, the head of Venezuela’s feared SEBIN intelligence agency, wrote a letter to the Venezuelan people saying that while he has always been loyal to Mr Maduro it is now time to ‘rebuild the country’.
He lamented that corruption has become so rampant that ‘many high-ranking public servants practice it like a sport’.
‘The hour has arrived for us to look for other ways of doing politics,’ he wrote. ‘To build the homeland our children and grandchildren deserve.’
The letter circulating on social media was confirmed by a senior US official. He said the general’s wife is currently outside the country.
Mr Guaido said he called for the uprising to restore Venezuela’s constitutional order, broken when Mr Maduro was sworn in earlier this year for a second term following elections boycotted by the opposition and considered illegitimate by dozens of countries.
‘The armed forces have taken the right decision,’ said Mr Guaido. ‘With the support of the Venezuelan people and the backing of our constitution they are on the right side of history.’