Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido took to the streets Tuesday morning and called for a military uprising, saying he has begun the “final phase” of his plan to oust embattled President Nicolas Maduro.
In a three-minute video posted on his Twitter account, the 35-year-old lawmaker said soldiers who took the streets would be acting to protect Venezuela’s constitution.
“The moment is now,” said Guaido, who shot the video at a Caracas airbase surrounded by soldiers and accompanied by detained activist and mentor, Leopoldo Lopez.
“The national armed forces have taken the correct decision, and they count on the support of the Venezuelan people,” he said.
Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, center, is seen surrounded by supporters outside La Carlota air base in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, April 30, 2019. Lopez, who had been under house arrest for leading an anti-government push in 2014, said he had been freed by soldiers and called for a military uprising. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
In his first public appearance since being detained in 2014 for leading anti-government protests, Lopez claimed on Twitter that he was freed by the military and called on all Venezuelans to peacefully take to the streets.
"This is the moment of all Venezuelans, those in uniform and those who aren't," he told reporters. "Everyone should come to the streets, in peace."
He added on Twitter: “We must all mobilize. It is time to conquer freedom.”
Minutes after the video was shared, the Venezuelan government said it would be putting down a small coup attempt by military “traitors” working with the opposition.
Soldiers take a position on an overpass next to the La Carlota air base in Caracas, Venezuela. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
“We reject this coup movement, which aims to fill the country with violence,” said Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino.
Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez on Twitter called on Venezuelan citizens to remain on high alert, alongside the “glorious Bolivarian National armed forces, to defeat the coup attempt and preserve the peace.”
“We will win,” he wrote in Spanish.
Tear gas was fired at a highway overpass near the Caracas air base where Guaidó and several heavily armed soldiers with blue bands wrapped around their forearms had been standing guard. The tear gas appeared to have been fired from inside the Carlota air base.
Tear gas covers an empty highway next to La Carlota air base in Caracas, Venezuela. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
The crowd was growing as people sensed what could be their strongest opportunity yet to overthrow the government after months of turmoil that has seen Maduro withstand an onslaught of protests and international pressure.
"It's now or never," said one of the young soldiers, his face covered in the blue bandanna preferred by the few dozen soldiers who stood alongside Guaidó and Lopez.
An opponent to Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro returns a tear gas canister in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, April 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
In a phone call to state TV, socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello, downplayed the significance of the rebellion, saying Caracas is in complete calm. He then called on government supporters to amass at the presidential palace to defend Maduro
Local reports said soldiers still supporting Maduro were bolstering security at the presidential palace of Miraflores.
Guaido, the leader of Venezuela's opposition-controlled National Assembly, invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency in January, triggering a power struggle with Maduro. He has the support from about 50 countries, including the United States and several European nations, who have disavowed Maduro’s presidency.
However, on Tuesday, a spokeswoman's for Spain's acting government said it did not support any military coup in Venezuela, even though it still considered Guaido the country's legitimate leader.
"We hope with all of our strength that there is no bloodshed. We support a peaceful democratic process in Venezuela. We support the immediate holding of an election for a new president," Isabel Celaá said on Tuesday during a weekly routine press briefing.
Meanwhile, Maduro, who is backed by Russia and China, calls Guaido a U.S.-baked puppet who seeks to oust him in a coup. He has appeared to retain control of state institutions and the loyalty of senior military officers.
A senior White House official told Fox News that Maduro has not been seen and remains unaccounted for. Maduro's Twitter account just shows retweets from other accounts and no formal statements.
The government has arrested Guaido's top aide, stripped the opposition leader of his parliamentary immunity and opened multiple probes against him. He has also barred him from leaving the country – a ban that Guaido openly violated earlier this year when he traveled to several Latin American countries seeking foreign support.
Guaidó said on Tuesday soldiers who had taken to the streets were protecting Venezuela's constitution.
"The armed forces have taken the right decision," said Guaidó. "With the support of the Venezuelan people and the backing of our constitution, they are on the right side of history."
A senior White House official told Fox News on Tuesday morning that "things are moving in Venezuelan" and that Guaido has "substantial" military backing. The official said President Trump has been briefed of the developments in the South American country.
Fox News’ John Roberts, Kevin Corke and the Associated Press contributed to this report.