The Latest: Trump tells Americans to avoid Venezuela


CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The latest on the political crisis in Venezuela (all times local):

7:50 p.m.

Vice President Mike Pence is going to Miami on Friday to meet with people who have fled Venezuela, as the Trump administration continues to challenge Nicolas Maduro’s claim to the presidency.

A White House official says Pence will be talking with community leaders, political prisoners and former elected officials who have fled the South American country due to political persecution. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the visit ahead of its formal announcement.

The Trump administration has recognized Juan Guaido, the head of the opposition-controlled congress, as Venezuela’s rightful president.

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Trump spoke with Guaido on Wednesday. The president tweeted that he congratulated Guaido “on his historic assumption of the presidency and reinforced strong United States support for Venezuela’s fight to regain its democracy.”

— Jill Colvin in Washington


6:30 p.m.

The governments of Mexico and Uruguay are calling for an international conference of neutral countries to jump start a dialogue between Venezuelans.

The conference is to be held Feb. 7 in Montevideo, the Uruguayan capital, and Mexico said Wednesday that it expects at least 10 countries and international organizations to participate.

Mexico and Uruguay have refused to withdraw recognition from the embattled Venezuelan government of President Nicolas Maduro. The U.S., Canada and many Latin American nations have recognized opposition leader Juan Guiado, who declared himself Venezuela’s interim president last week.

A statement from Uruguay and Mexico says that “the purpose of the conference will be to establish the basis for a new dialogue mechanism that includes all the forces in Venezuela, in order to help restore peace in that country.”


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5:50 p.m.

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators says they will urge European countries to recognize Venezuelan congress leader Juan Guaido as the interim president of the South American country.

Republican Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee and he told reporters Wednesday that the Venezuelan opposition’s new envoy in Washington “asked us to urge our European allies, which we have done and will continue to do.”

Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland was the only Democrat in the group of five senators who met with opposition envoy Carlos Vecchio to express bipartisan support for Guaido, who has declared himself Venezuela’s interim president in a challenge to Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief has said that if Maduro doesn’t announce a new presidential election in the next days, the 28-nation bloc “will take further actions, including on the issue of recognition of the country’s leadership.”


4:35 p.m.

Colombia is barring over 200 people identified as having close ties to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from entering the neighboring Andean nation.

Migration director Christian Kruger said Wednesday the measure is part of a larger response by the regional bloc known as the Lima Group.

Representatives from a dozen nations in the Americas that comprise the Lima Group are recognizing Juan Guaido as interim president, with the exception of Mexico.

Kruger said those on the no-entry list are being barred because of their “close relationship and support for the regime of Nicolas Maduro.”

Venezuelan Ronald Ramirez became the first person denied entry Wednesday after landing in the Colombian city of Barranquilla on a charter plane.

Kruger said that Ramirez was recently named by Maduro to lead a Venezuelan manufacturing business that operates in Colombia.


4 p.m.

The Trump administration’s special envoy for Venezuela says there are deep splits in the country’s military that should make embattled President Nicolas Maduro and his supporters very nervous.

Elliott Abrams says the vast majority of Venezuelan soldiers are unhappy with Maduro and the state of the country. Abrams says Maduro may have the backing of the top brass but the rank-and-file are restive.

Abrams told reporters at the State Department on Wednesday that the administration would continue to ramp up pressure to push Maduro to step down and would expand its support for opposition leader Juan Guaido.

The administration last week recognized Guiado as the country’s legitimate leader and has since hit Venezuela with severe sanctions. It has also turned over control of government bank accounts in the U.S. to Guaido.


3:10 p.m.

Opposition protesters in Venezuela have wrapped up a walkout urging President Nicolas Maduro to step down by singing their country’s national anthem.

The two-hour walkout in cities around Venezuela drew thousands to the streets.

Protester Maria Kley said she was demonstrating because, “We want a free Venezuela.”

Others like Dr. Hugo Rosillo said they wanted to see an end to the medical shortages that prevent physicians like him from treating curable illnesses.

He said the children’s hospital where he works has turned into “a storeroom for cadavers.”

Like last week’s demonstration, the walkout drew a cross section of Venezuelan society, from nurses and businessmen to students and construction workers.


2:45 p.m.

Opposition leader Juan Guaido says Venezuelans took to the streets in more than 5,000 spots across the country to demand their freedom from President Nicolas Maduro.

Guaido made a surprise appearance Wednesday before a cheering crowd at the Central University of Venezuela in the capital of Caracas.

He had called for people to stage a peaceful demonstration by stepping out of their homes and workplaces for two hours.

A week earlier he asserted that the constitution gave him presidential powers because Maduro’s re-election was a sham.

Guaido says he’s not losing any sleep over a Supreme Court order banning him from leaving the country.

He also says his goal is for masses fleeing Venezuela’s crisis to return home and reclaim their nation.

Opposition leaders are calling for another protest on Saturday.


12:45 p.m.

Venezuelans are exiting their homes and workplaces in a walkout organized by the opposition to demand that President Nicolas Maduro leave power.

People began gathering on streets in the capital city of Caracas around noon, waving flags and chanting phrases like, “Free elections!”

Drivers are honking their horns in support of the protesters.

The demonstration comes one week after opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself president before thousands of supporters, contending that he is the nation’s rightful leader because Maduro’s reelection was a sham.

Guaido is the 35-year-old president of the National Assembly, the only branch of Venezuela’s government controlled by the opposition.

Maduro is refusing to step down and accusing the U.S. of orchestrating a coup by backing Guaido and imposing punishing oil sanctions.


11:45 a.m.

The White House says President Donald Trump has stressed to Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido his “strong support” for the nation’s fight to regain its democracy.

Trump and Guaido spoke on Wednesday. The White House says Guaido thanked Trump for committing the U.S. to freedom and prosperity in Venezuela and the region. The leaders also agreed to regular communication in support of Venezuela’s path back to stability and to rebuild strained relations between both countries.

Large protests are planned across Venezuela on Wednesday to increase pressure on President Nicolas Maduro to step down.

Guaido declared himself Venezuela’s rightful leader last week and said the nation “is set on change.”


10:50 a.m.

Embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has turned to the power of prayer as opposition leaders backed by the United States amp up pressure for his ouster.

Maduro on Wednesday participated in a Christian prayer session with dozens of evangelical supporters.

In the session aired on state TV, Maduro lowered his eyes and raised his right hand in prayer.

He asked “all powerful God” to bless Venezuela and lead it to a peaceful future.

A minister leading the service says millions of evangelicals are praying around the clock for the South American nation.

The socialist president has been challenged by opposition leader Juan Guaido, who claims that he’s Venezuela’s rightful leader.


9:45 a.m.

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro is huddling with his military ahead of planned anti-government protests.

In scenes broadcast on state TV, Maduro could be seen walking around the Fort Tiuna military base in Caracas early Wednesday with top commanders and dozens of troops.

“Do you love you homeland? Will you defend the constitution? Will you defend your commander in

chief?” Maduro asked the troops, who responded with loud shouts of “Yes, commander in chief!”

Since opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president last week with the support of the U.S. and other nations, Maduro has appeared almost daily on state TV with his military, projecting an image of invincibility even as international pressure against him builds.

Supporters of Guaido are planning a nationwide walkout Wednesday to ratchet up pressure on Maduro.


9:35 a.m.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is pressing his case directly to the American people, asking for their help preventing a “Vietnam in Latin America.”

In a 45-second video shot late Tuesday from the presidential palace and addressed to “the American people” Maduro said that the Trump administration is behind an attempt to overthrow him in a coup.

He said the U.S. is looking to get its hands on Venezuela’s abundant oil reserves, replicating U.S. military interventions in Iraq and Libya.

But he said he’s confident that he’s on the “right side of history” and pleaded with regular Americans to keep U.S. troops out of the country.


8:15 a.m.

The wife of a rebel military officer who President Nicolas Maduro has accused of plotting his overthrow says he has been arrested after sneaking back into Venezuela amid the country’s upheaval.

Sorbay Pailla said she last heard from her husband, retired National Guard Col. Oswaldo Garcia Palomo, on Sunday after he entered the country clandestinely from Colombia. She said contacts within the DGCIM military intelligence unit told her that he was arrested in the western state of Barinas.

The Associated Press was unable to confirm the arrest and the government has yet to comment. But Luis Almagro, the head of the Organization of American States, condemned late Tuesday what he called the “kidnapping” of Garcia Palomo.

Garcia Palomo has been an outspoken critic of Maduro who has been open for months about his intent to amass a military force in exile to remove Maduro.


This version corrects the spelling of the officer’s name to Garcia Palomo.


7:40 a.m.

U.S. President Donald Trump is telling Americans to not go to Venezuela, where there’s major political turmoil.

Trump tweeted Wednesday there’s a “Massive protest expected today.” He says, “Americans should not travel to Venezuela until further notice.”

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido is looking to increase pressure on President Nicolas Maduro with nationwide walkouts. Guaido declared himself Venezuela’s rightful leader a week ago and says the nation “is set on change.”

Maduro’s embattled socialist administration has barred Guaido from leaving the country while he’s investigated for anti-government activities.

The U.S. and many other nations back Guaido. Trump has imposed sanctions that could starve Venezuela of billions of dollars in oil revenue.

Trump tweets: “Maduro willing to negotiate with opposition in Venezuela following U.S. sanctions and the cutting off of oil revenues. Guaido is being targeted by Venezuelan Supreme Court.”


3 a.m.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says he is willing to negotiate with the country’s opposition.

Maduro’s remarks in an interview with Russian state-owned RIA Novosti news agency on Wednesday came amid a dire political crisis in Venezuela. Opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself the interim president last week and has urged citizens to challenge Maduro with walkouts on Wednesday.

Maduro told RIA Novosti that he is “willing to sit down for talks with the opposition for the sake of Venezuela’s peace and its future.” Maduro said the talks could be held with mediation of other countries.

Russia is one of the staunchest supporters of Maduro and has offered to mediate.


2 a.m.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido is looking to ratchet up pressure on President Nicolas Maduro with nationwide walkouts Wednesday, just a day after the embattled socialist administration barred Guaido from leaving the country while he is investigated.

The man challenging Maduro’s claim to the presidency is urging Venezuelans to step outside their homes and workplaces for two hours beginning at noon in the first mass mobilization since he declared himself the nation’s rightful leader a week ago during another round of big protests.

The surge in political maneuvering has seen two dozen nations, including the United States and several big Latin American countries, backed Guaido, and the Trump administration has imposed sanctions that could starve the already distressed nation of billions in oil revenue.

But Maduro is holding firm.

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