One week after President Donald Trump’s administration recognized an opposition leader as Venezuela’s interim president, the Latin American nation’s longtime embattled leader Nicolas Maduro warned that the United States was in danger of turning his country into another intractable conflict like the Vietnam War.
“People from #USA, I ask for your support in order to reject the interference of Donald Trump’s administration which intends to turn my Homeland into a ‘Vietnam war’ in Latin America. Don’t allow it!” Maduro posted on his Twitter account Wednesday, in English. In a separate video published in Spanish on his Facebook account, Maduro said that if “the U.S. intends to invade us, they will have a Vietnam worse than they can imagine.”
Maduro has accused Washington of staging a coup against his government. Speculation that Trump may be preparing to send troops to Venezuela was fueled this week after U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton was seen holding a notepad with scribbled notes that read: “5,000 troops to Colombia.” Colombia borders Venezuela.
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More than 58,000 Americans and approximately 4 million Vietnamese were killed in the Vietnam War. It was a protracted, expensive and divisive conflict that the U.S. entered incrementally from 1955 to 1973 on the side of South Vietnam against Communist North Vietnam. It is second longest war in U.S. history. The longest is the war in Afghanistan.
Maduro’s comments on social media came as thousands of Venezuelans marched late Wednesday in opposition to his regime and in support of Juan Guaido, a charismatic 35-year-old who heads the opposition. Guaido is an industrial engineer by training and has little governance experience but he has won the backing of many Venezuelans, and Trump and some U.S. allies, for his stated commitment to fighting corruption and revitalizing the oil-rich country’s troubled six-decade-old flirtation with democracy.
Guaido has vowed to end the “usurpation,” a reference to moves by Maduro to accumulate executive power that has weakened Venezuela’s courts, undermined its legislative assembly and brought widespread allegations of gross human-rights abuses.
Trump spoke with Guaido by phone Wednesday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement. Sanders said they “agreed to maintain regular communication to support Venezuela’s path back to stability, and to rebuild the bilateral relationship between the United States and Venezuela.” It was a reference to Maduro but also to the severe U.S.-Venezuela diplomatic tensions that began under his predecessor Hugo Chavez, a virulently anti-American dictator under whose leadership Venezuela’s economic woes first intensified. Chavez impoverished Venezuela by expropriating the country’s private wealth, especially its oil wealth, and attempting to redistribute it to the poor. But his populist policies were staggeringly mismanaged. Today, Venezuela has the highest annual inflation rate in the world – more than 100,000 percent – and it is plagued by shortages of essential medicines and food.