CARACAS, Venezuela — Opposition leader Juan Guaidó brought thousands of demonstrators into the streets of the Venezuelan capital to confront tear-gas firing security forces Wednesday as the opposition sought to regroup and regain momentum in the campaign to oust President Nicolás Maduro after a failed effort to ignite a military uprising a day earlier.
“If the regime thought we had reached our maximum level of pressure, they were wrong,” Guaidó told several thousand supporters in the middle-class El Marques neighborhood of eastern Caracas. “Let’s keep up the pressure in the streets. The end is around the corner!”
Yet the chaotic events of the day before — which began with Guaidó’s calling for a peaceful insurrection by the military and ended with few takers and Maduro still in the presidential palace — left opposition supporters grappling with a sense of a pivotal moment lost. Many in the ranks remained resolute after a day of violence that left one man dead, dozens injured and more detained. But there were also strains of confusion and disappointment.
“Yesterday, there were failures,” said Mirna Pinto, a 69-year-old retired nurse. “I expected something else.”
But she nevertheless joined the opposition protests Wednesday: “Success will come the day Maduro goes.”
A protester was killed Wednesday, said doctors and the independent Venezuelan Observatory of Social Council, which tracks protests. Officials said Jurubith Garcia, 27, had been hit by a bullet in eastern Caracas, where security forces were confronting protesters. Her death was the 55th in protests this year.
Guaidó, who is recognized by the United States and more than 50 other nations as Venezuela’s rightful leader, called for workers to join a “gradual strike” that eventually builds into a general strike to paralyze the country. He encouraged striking workers to wear a blue armband — the symbol worn by the small band of military men who supported Guaidó on Tuesday.
Senior opposition leaders spent part of the day Wednesday explaining their tactics to others in the movement, many of whom had been left in the dark about Guaidó’s high-stakes bid at La Carlota military air base Tuesday.
One question was unanswered: What role would his political mentor — Leopoldo López, who escaped from house arrest on Tuesday and appeared with Guaidó that day — now take in the effort? On Wednesday, people familiar with the situation said that López remained under the protection of the Spanish government at its embassy in Caracas.
“We understand that we can’t all be informed on when exactly or how everything is going to happen. We don’t want leaks,” said Juan Pablo Guanipa, a senior member of the Primero Justicia political party and a lawmaker from the state of Zulia.
“I don’t think all is lost,” he continued. “I think the right steps will be taken at the right moment, and I think what happened yesterday leaves the dictatorship naked and helps us generate the capacity for a change.”
Guaidó and the Trump administration had hoped this week would be a turning point in the three-month-long effort to remove Maduro. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that U.S. officials had expected Maduro to flee the country Tuesday but that Russia had prevailed on him to stay — an assertion that Maduro and the Russians denied.
National security adviser John Bolton, meanwhile, said several senior government officials including the defense minister and the chief judge of the Supreme Court had been in talks to show Maduro the door. Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López disputed that claim.
But the assertions suggested a measure of intrigue and betrayal around Maduro — who on Tuesday replaced the head of his domestic intelligence agency after his apparent defection to the opposition.
“Everyone around Maduro is trying to figure out where they’re going to be when the music stops — either sitting down beside him, in jail or out of the country, because yes, the music is going to stop,” said a senior U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive topic.
Guaidó may face a heightened risk of arrest after his actions Tuesday. Yet the fact that he was able to appear and openly speak at different points around the capital on Wednesday suggested the extent to which Maduro might still fear the domestic and international consequences of acting against him.
“It strikes me that both Maduro and Guaidó have been somewhat battered by recent developments,” said Michael Shifter, the president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank. “Both are still standing, to be sure, but with weakened positions.”
Crucial to Guaidó’s success now is the ability to bounce back from Tuesday’s misfire and avoid the withering of the most potent anti-government movement to emerge in Venezuela since Maduro succeeded Hugo Chávez in 2013.
This oil-rich nation, once South America’s wealthiest per capita, has been paralyzed by the political stalemate and a growing humanitarian crisis. Hyperinflation, rising crime, power outages, and shortages of medical supplies, food and water have reduced life for many to a daily struggle for survival. Millions have fled the country.
Maduro claimed victory in an election last year in which key opposition candidates were barred from running. The result was decried internationally as fraudulent. He is backed by Russia, China, Cuba and a few other nations.
Guaidó, the head of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly, declared himself president in January. He calls Maduro a “usurper.”
Carlos Romero, a Venezuelan political analyst, said it was clear that Guaidó did not achieve his objective Tuesday.
“But we can’t condemn the opposition yet,” Romero said. “This can be used to intensify the fight, as it was demonstrated that Maduro doesn’t have complete backing from the armed forces.”
Maduro — unseen Tuesday until a late appearance on state TV — denounced Guaidó’s attempted uprising as a failed coup. He remained out of the public eye most of Wednesday while his security forces fired tear gas at demonstrators in at least three locations in Caracas.
A pro-government rally next to Miraflores, the presidential palace, drew about 500 people, far fewer than the multiple rallies of thousands of people supporting Guaidó. Diosdado Cabello, one of Maduro’s top lieutenants, told the pro-government rally that opposition leaders were now “walking like zombies.”
Maduro, appearing later Wednesday, called Guaidó’s attempted uprising Tuesday “a big operation of intrigue.”
“In the next days, I will release the evidence of those who conspired, who betrayed and how they did it,” he said. “The people have to know who the traitors are. And justice will have to do its part.”
Venezuelans differed Wednesday on whether the tepid response to Guaidó’s call Tuesday would dampen support for the opposition.
“If Guaidó is doing it this way, however crazy it may seem, it is because there is a plan behind it. And we have to support it,” said Neidy Graterol, 31, a secretary, as she exited a Caracas metro station. “He is the only one who has achieved so much in such a short time.”
She said the government was trying to intimidate opposition supporters, with police asking travelers on the metro on Wednesday “where they were going and why.”
Derwin Castro, 42, a security guard, was considerably more frustrated. He said he initially was excited by Guaidó’s announcement early Tuesday that he was working with the military to remove Maduro from power.
“I said to myself, ‘Finally the moment has arrived.’ But later in the afternoon, when I realized they didn’t have all the tanks they talked about, nor the military support, I was disappointed.”
In the Chacao business district of Caracas, anti-government protesters poured into the streets holding signs calling on Maduro to resign. As they advanced toward the main highway leading to La Carlota air base, where Guaidó launched his appeal Tuesday morning, security forces fired tear gas.
“I’m surprised by the number of people I’m seeing here today,” said Ramón Machado, 22, a marketing student. “I thought I was among the few who still had faith.
“I believe in the process, I believe in Guaidó, and I can feel the change coming soon.”
Faiola reported from Panama City and Sheridan from Mexico City. Missy Ryan, Karen DeYoung and Carol Morello in Washington and Anton Troianovski in Moscow contributed to this report.