(CNSNews.com) – Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro declared late Tuesday that he has defeated a U.S.-backed “coup” and rejected Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s claim that he had been planning to leave for Cuba hours earlier until dissuaded from doing so by the Russians.
“Please, Mr. Pompeo, you are not being serious,” Maduro said in a nationally televised broadcast, dismissing the claims as “lies and manipulation.”
Pompeo told CNN earlier that Maduro “had an airplane on the tarmac. He was ready to leave this morning [for Havana] as we understand it. And the Russians indicated he should stay.”
He referred to the matter again in a Fox News interview, saying Maduro was understood to have “made a decision that we’ve been urging him to make for quite some time, and then he was diverted from that action by the Russians.”
“We hope he’ll reconsider and get back on that plane.”
Then addressing a business award ceremony later in the evening, Pompeo said, “We literally had Nicolás Maduro getting prepared to get on this airplane and head out of the country before he was stopped – stopped really at the direction of the Russians.”
Given the scale of the crisis and the damage to the economy attributed to the socialist regime, U.S. officials have argued that Maduro would need to leave the country in order to smooth the transition. Communist-ruled Cuba, Maduro’s closest ideological ally, would be one obvious destination.
U.S. special representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams said in February Maduro should go, and noted that he has “friends in places like Cuba and Russia.”
National Security Advisor John Bolton tweeted that same month, “I wish Nicolás Maduro and his top advisors a long, quiet retirement, living on a nice beach somewhere far from Venezuela.”
In his Fox News interview, Pompeo said the U.S. has made clear to countries still supporting Maduro “that the destruction that’s taken place over years inside of Venezuela will be a struggle to rebuild, but it is a worthy cause, and Nicolás Maduro cannot be anywhere in the country if the Venezuelan people hope to finally achieve that outcome.”
‘Nerves of steel’
Tuesday’s drama began when Juan Guaido, the opposition leader whom the U.S. and more than 50 other countries recognize as interim president under Venezuela’s constitution, called in an early morning video message for the military and citizens to support him in ending Maduro’s “usurpation” of power.
After a day of clashes between opposition supporters and regime loyalists, Maduro stated he had put down the “coup,” declaring in the televised message that his government had responded to the crisis with “nerves of steel.”
He said the conspirators had wanted to provoke an armed confrontation, to draw in foreign intervention.
Seated alongside Maduro as he spoke was Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino, one of three top regime officials who Bolton said earlier in the day had “agreed that Maduro had to go.”
Padrino’s presence – like statements made, a television appearance, and tweets he posted during the day – suggested that the information relayed by Bolton was wrong, or possibly that the defense minister had at the last moment backed out of a commitment given to support a peaceful transition.
Bolton had said that Padrino, as well as the president of the supreme court and the head of the presidential guard, had agreed Maduro must go, and called on the trio to act quickly in support of Guaido.
Although Maduro has declared victory, Guaido released another video message of his own on Tuesday night, calling on citizens to take the streets again on Wednesday for mass demonstrations against the regime.
He disputed Maduro’s claim to have control over the armed forces, and described his own campaign as a “peaceful rebellion,” not a coup.
Guaido did not reveal his whereabouts, and the clip, which showed him sitting at a desk in front of a bare wall, gave no indication.
If the Trump administration was disappointed at the way things had gone, Pompeo showed little sign of it in his comments at the award ceremony.
“There’ll be another sunrise tomorrow,” he said. “The opportunity for Venezuelan democracy, I am confident, will remain.”