BOGOTA, Colombia – There were two political demonstrations Wednesday in Caracas, Venezuela. While Nicolás Maduro's supporters marched at the Plaza O'Leary, Juan Guaidó's supporters faced the National Guard's violence at the Plaza Altamira.
Late Wednesday night, Guaidó reported two protesters died and there were arrests nationwide. Dozens were injured in Caracas. Teenagers, college students and young men and women braved tear gas canisters, rubber bullets and faced the threats of the "colectivos," gangs of armed civilians who are loyal to the socialist party.
While Maduro delivered a May Day speech on television, Guaidó told a crowd of supporters that "the usurper has lost." U.S. and Russian diplomats clashed over each other's influence in the oil-rich country, and Venezuelan exiles watched the chaos anxiously from South Florida.
"It has been 20 years since this regime has taken over and we want them out," said Rafael Moya, a Venezuelan American student who rushed to El Arepazo restaurant in Doral on Wednesday afternoon.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reportedly told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over the phone that further aggressive steps against Maduro would be fraught with the gravest of consequences. The United Nations called on both the U.S. and Russia to exercise "maximum restraint."
Pompeo later told Fox Business that President Donald Trump, who has sided with Guaidó, prefers a peaceful transition, but "the president has been crystal clear and incredibly consistent – military action is possible. If that is what is required, that is what the United States will do."
Pompeo made the statement hours after Guaidó stood in front of a crowd of supporters in Caracas saying: "It is totally clear now. The usurper has lost."
On Tuesday, he managed to free his mentor, Leopoldo López, from house arrest and earned the loyalty of the head of the country's intelligence agency. But their call for a widespread military uprising appeared to be unsuccessful as a small fire burned at the Carlota air force base.
López, an opposition leader who was arrested in 2014, was at the Spanish Embassy in Caracas on Wednesday after a Chilean diplomat told him he couldn't seek refuge at his home because he had too many guests. López is with his wife, Lilian Tintori, and their children.
U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said Maduro is surrounded by "scorpions in a bottle" adding that his defense minister, Supreme Court chief and head of the presidential guard were going to allow a transfer of power to Guaidó. Pompeo said Russia stopped Maduro from fleeing to Cuba.
Carlos Fernández de Cossío, Cuba's director-general of U.S. affairs in Washington, and Johana Tablada, Cuba's deputy director of U.S. affairs in Havana, both denied Trump's allegations that the Cubans have troops in Venezuela to protect Maduro.
Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia's Foreign Ministry, told The Associated Press the allegations of Bolton and Pompeo are part of a "global information and psychological war against Venezuela and Caracas."
Europe-based NetBlocks reported Venezuela's state-run internet provider was restricting access to livestreaming services and other social media features. CNN and BBC were cut off. Reporters covering the clashes were injured. These are the strategies of repression that former Venezuelan political prisoners in South Florida have attributed to the influence of Russia and China.
It is an influence that Simon Vera hopes Guaidó, with the help of the U.S., will be able to get out of Venezuela. Maduro's forces tortured Vera in 2017 after he was arrested for participating in a protest in Venezuela. He said the threats from Maduro's supporters forced him to move to Miami-Dade County.
"We want to go back to Venezuela," Vera said.