The United States claimed on Tuesday that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was on his way out, saying he had a plane ready and that senior officials were plotting to oust him, even as the leftist firebrand appeared to survive a military uprising.
President Donald Trump accused Cuba of propping up Maduro and warned of fresh action against the communist island which has allegedly sent thousands of troops to crisis-hit Venezuela.
Hours after a revolt by military officers to oust Maduro appeared to be fizzling out, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dropped a bombshell by saying that the Venezuelan president had been prepared to go into exile in Cuba until ally Russia dissuaded him.
He had an airplane on the tarmac, he was ready to leave this morning as we understand it, and the Russians indicated that he should stay, Pompeo told CNN.
Asked if he had a message for Maduro, Pompeo told Fox News: We hope he'll reconsider and get back on that plane.
Pompeo, a former CIA director, declined to specify the source of his information, but said the United States was talking to scores and scores of people on the ground as well as looking at open-source material.
Maduro was not seen publicly on Tuesday, although he tweeted that senior military officials had assured him of total loyalty.
The Trump administration cast Maduro as reliant on foreign support, with John Bolton, the national security adviser, saying that up to 25,000 Cuban troops had deployed to Venezuela.
Trump demanded their departure, tweeting: If Cuban Troops and Militia do not immediately CEASE military and other operations for the purpose of causing death and destruction to the Constitution of Venezuela, a full and complete embargo, together with highest-level sanctions, will be placed on the island of Cuba.
It was unclear what further action he had in mind as the United States has imposed an embargo on Cuba for nearly six decades, although Trump has increased pressure that includes a curb on tourism and remittances.
The revolt came one day before opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is recognized as interim president by the United States and most Latin American and European powers, has called protests for the May 1 workers' holiday that he has vowed will be the largest in Venezuela's history.
Bolton publicly called on three senior Venezuelan officials earlier thought to be loyal to Maduro to carry out a plan to install Guaido.
And it is time for them now, if the Cubans will let them do it, to fulfill their commitments and it is time for the rest of the military to show what their own families believe ought to happen - and that is Maduro needs to go, Bolton told reporters at the White House.
Bolton named the trio as Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino, Supreme Court Chief Justice Maikel Moreno and presidential guard commander Ivan Hernandez Dala.
This has been building for a long time. If this effort fails they will sink into a dictatorship from which there are very few possible alternatives. It is a very delicate moment, Bolton said.
Elliott Abrams, the US special representative on Venezuela, said the trio had been making plans for the last month or two, although he said the United States was not directly involved.
But it seems as of today they are not going forward, he told reporters at the State Department.
It remained unclear why the United States would publicly identify leaders who stand to face severe repercussions from Maduro.
Asked about the risks, Abrams said, I don't think they are in danger, for one thing, if constitutional order is restored to Venezuela.
The United States and its allies argue that the National Assembly, headed by Guaido's opposition, is the only legitimate institution in Venezuela, denying Maduro's charge that he is facing a coup.
Maduro's re-election last year was widely criticized for irregularities. He presides over a crumbling economy, with inflation forecast this year to reach a mind-boggling 10 million percent and millions of Venezuelans having fled due to shortages of basic goods.
Samuel Moncada, Venezuela's ambassador to the United Nations, blamed the insurrection on a group of deputies from the National Assembly and a small group of low-ranked military personnel.
The constitutional government of President Nicolas Maduro, he told reporters, has defeated a new attempt by foreign powers to provoke confusion and disorder in the national territory.
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