Maduro regime in disarray as Venezuelan military envoy to U.S. defects

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Guaido's move is the most direct challenge to Maduro's rule despite years of protests at home and global efforts to isolate the regime amid a growing humanitarian crisis fueled by falling oil prices and government mismanagement.

"Of course there is suffering in Venezuela and I strongly stand with the people", the Minnesota congresswoman continued.

Guaido's supporters made their case directly to soldiers on Sunday, handing them leaflets that urged they reject the socialist leader and explaining how they could be eligible for amnesty if they help return Venezuela to democracy.

The Trump administration's quick recognition of Guaido was quickly met with alarm by progressive anti-war advocates and commentators, who denounced the move as the beginnings of a coup and warned that United States intervention in Venezuela's internal affairs will only make the country's economic and political crises worse. "This is the moment to be on the constitution's side, it's not a moment of fear, it's not time to step back, it's not time to disrespect the Venezuelan people", he said.

"Nobody respects the weak, cowards, traitors. In this world, what's respected is the fearless, the courageous, power", Maduro said as he watched bullets from the Russian artillery pound a hillside.

Maduro said the U.S. President Donald Trump is not a leader who can deal with the problems and underlined that Trump "belittles" Venezuela, Latin America and the world.

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Over the weekend, some European Union nations threatened to recognize Guaido as interim president if Maduro does not announce new elections soon.

In turn, Maduro took to Twitter on Monday to voice his support for the armed forces amid attempts by the opposition to woo them.

Maduro so far has not budged from his position, telling CNN Turk: "No one can give us an ultimatum".

Guaido has won wide global support, including from the United States.

Two weeks after he was inaugurated for a second term this month, Venezuela's opposition controlled National Assembly declared Maduro's presidency illegitimate.

The Venezuelan leader earlier gave United States diplomats until late Saturday to leave the country.

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Maduro's refusal, at least so far, to order Guaido's arrest reflects mistrust in his own security forces as well as the Trump administration's warning that any harm to the man the US recognizes as Venezuela's legitimate leader would be crossing a unsafe red line.

The Venezuelan president recalled his nation's diplomats from the U.S. and ordered all U.S. Embassy staff out of the country, but later backtracked to try to open a dialogue over the issue. Russian Federation and China have backed Maduro, against council members France, Britain and non-permanent member Germany, who want to increase pressure on Maduro and force him to resign. "Do not test the United States on our resolve to protect our people", Pompeo told the U.N. Security Council Saturday.

The Trump adminstration has warned Venezuela that any violence or intimidation against its diplomats or opposition leader Juan Guaido, will be met with what it calls a "significant response".

Venezuelan oil exports to the US have declined steadily over the years, falling particularly sharply over the past decade as its production plummeted amid its long economic and political crisis. Oversupply of the most popular fuel is pressuring refiners' margins, an effect reinforced by relatively sluggish demand, which is largely seasonally explained. Inflation is out of control.

On 22 January, the opposition-run National Assembly adopted a statement declaring that Maduro had usurped power.

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