Venezuelan opposition leader speaks to the Guardian as his allies face years in jail for their role in the abortive 30 April uprising
The Venezuelan politician fighting to depose Nicols Maduro has accused his rival of attempting to obliterate the opposition challenge to his rule with a campaign of state terrorism.
Speaking to the Guardian nearly two weeks after his failed uprising against Maduro, Juan Guaid claimed Venezuelas strongman president was illegally targeting opposition leaders who took part.
Today what we are seeing is terror, the sowing of terror, which is all the Maduro regime has left, Guaid said during an interview at his party headquarters in Caracas.
What they are doing right now is basically state terrorism because they are using the state apparatus to spread fear.
Venezuelas foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, has rejected international criticism of his governments clampdown, asking critics how they would respond to a similarly foolhardy operation to remove their leader.
Maduro and his backers describe the botched mutiny as a United States-backed coup attempt that was defeated thanks to the loyalty of Venezuelas armed forces.
But Guaid, the 35-year-old president of Venezuelas national assembly, claimed Maduros pursuit of opposition lawmakers reflected the desperation of a regime in its final moments.
All that he has left, regrettably, is persecution, Guaid said of Maduro, who took power after Hugo Chvezs 2013 death and was returned to office last year in elections widely denounced as a fraud.
Several key Maduro confidants were reportedly involved in the plot against him including the defence minister and the head of the supreme court – and Guaid said he believed Maduro was now racked with paranoia. I think he mistrusts everyone even the person who serves him coffee.
He called the defection of Venezuelas top spy who Maduro has accused of being a CIA mole proof of a deep split within the military and predicted: There will be more and more [defections].
Despite the recent upheaval, Guaid cut a confident and carefree figure during the half-hour interview, at one point spontaneously breaking into a falsetto rendition of his campaign jingle: Vamos bien! (Were doing good!). As the Guardian left his office, Guaid beamed and flashed a V sign with his left hand.
But for all that outward bounce the politicians life has been upended since he launched his campaign against Maduro in January by declaring himself Venezuelas rightful interim president a decision now endorsed by 54 governments, including the United States and Britain.
Thickset security guards prowl the corridors of his offices with walkie talkies strapped to their hips. Guaids wife and baby daughter have reportedly left Venezuela.
There have been lots of threats, he said, calling recent days very complicated.
Guaid has yet to be detained or charged something many attribute to Maduros reluctance to provoke the White House.
But several close allies have gone into hiding or fled abroad after being stripped of their parliamentary immunity and accused of crimes including treason, civil rebellion and instigating insurrection.
On Saturday, Venezuelas El Nacional newspaper said Zambrano faced up to 30 years in prison for his role in the so-called Operation Freedom against Maduro.
Guaid recalled feeling great expectation as he headed to Caracas La Carlota airfield to launch the rebellion in the early hours of 30 April. But by noon it was clear crucial support from top military and political figures had not materialised. We needed more, Guaid admitted.
Despite the setback which some view as a calamitous defeat and others a temporary hitch – Guaid insisted the opposition was close to achieving its objective.
He hinted secret negotiations aimed at securing Maduros departure continued and said he would talk to any civil or military figure prepared to back his cause.
Asked how long Maduro had left, Guaid said he hoped it was nanoseconds.
They have already lost. Venezuela hasnt won yet [but] I believe it is just a matter of time.
Maduro loyalists see the uprising as part of a gringo plot masterminded by Donald Trumps White House. Pedro Carreo, a top Maduro ally, branded Guaids movement a despicable jukebox that would play whatever tune it was paid to.
Guaid rejected his depiction as a diabolical imperialist puppet and urged foreign critics to consider how Chavista criminality not US sanctions had caused Venezuelas collapse.
It wasnt a tornado. It wasnt a hurricane. It wasnt an earthquake. It wasnt a fire that spread uncontrollably, Guaid said. No it was caused by the corruption of this regime.
Additional reporting by Patricia Torres in Caracas
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