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Venezuelan Opposition's Envoy Gains Ground In Washington, D.C.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In Venezuela today, another twist. Before dawn, Venezuelan security services raided the home of Roberto Marrero, detained him. Now, Marrero is chief of staff to opposition leader Juan Guaido. So his arrest raises a question - might Guaido himself be next? A question we've ventured out into the rain today to ask Guaido's man in Washington.

All right. We're just walking up the front steps to a red brick townhouse, stucco Venezuelan flag out front. This is one of a couple buildings here in D.C. that belongs to Venezuela's Defense Ministry. As of this week, it's changed hands. It now is under the control of Venezuela's opposition. Specifically, it is under the control of this man.

CARLOS VECCHIO: Yeah. My name is Carlos Vecchio. I'm the new ambassador from the new government of Venezuela.

KELLY: All right. We are already on controversial ground here. The U.S. State Department does recognize Vecchio as the appointed ambassador, the government still in power in Venezuela does not. What is not in dispute is that, as of Monday, it is Vecchio who has the keys to this diplomatic building. It was Vecchio on Monday who pulled down a portrait from the wall of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and hung in its place one of one Juan Guaido.

What did you do with the Maduro picture? I'm curious.

VECCHIO: I don't know where it is.

KELLY: You don't know where it is.

VECCHIO: That's part of the past.

KELLY: You didn't, like, burn it out in the back?

VECCHIO: No. I'm thinking about the future, not thinking about the past.

KELLY: Carlos Vecchio and I pulled up chairs at a big folding table, the new Guaido portrait gazing down on us. And I started with the latest developments in his country.

I'm going to ask about today's news from Venezuela. As you know, Roberto Marrero was detained this morning.

VECCHIO: In a certain way, he was kidnapped by the regime.

KELLY: In what way?

VECCHIO: Because, I mean, that's the way they have conducted all the previous detentions in Venezuela. They placed two rifles and grenades in the house of Marrero and, you know, without any evidence. So this is a direct attack against the interim president, Juan Guaido.

KELLY: Were you surprised when you got the news or did you think this would happen?

VECCHIO: You know, last night, I was talking with President Juan Guaido and Roberto Marrero until 12 - until midnight. So I went to bed. And then suddenly, they called me around, you know, 3 a.m. in the morning.

KELLY: But just to be clear, you were talking with Juan Guaido last night...

VECCHIO: Yes.

KELLY: ...And with Marrero, who's now been detained.

VECCHIO: Correct.

KELLY: And they - he didn't indicate he had any idea this was happening.

VECCHIO: Nothing. Nothing.

KELLY: What's to stop it from being Guaido himself next?

VECCHIO: We need to continue on the streets in Venezuela.

KELLY: But do you worry this is paving the way?

VECCHIO: That could happen. That could happen. I mean, I'm facing an order of arrest in Venezuela for political reasons. You know, since 2014, I have spent more than 100 days in hiding. So I know this regime. This is the only tool that the Maduro regime has in order to control the power - the intimidation, the terror. And that's what they have been using. So yes, there is a risk that they can put also Juan Guaido in jail. And as I said, this is a direct attack against him.

KELLY: I want to ask you about the question of momentum because Juan Guaido declared himself the rightful leader of Venezuela back in January, but it's Nicolas Maduro who's still waking up this morning in the presidential palace. Has your movement lost momentum?

VECCHIO: I would say no. We have the people in the streets. Juan Guaido has been travelling across the country. And you can see a lot of demonstration - peaceful demonstration, you know, backing Juan Guaido. He's - he has unified the opposition. And also, he has preserved the unity inside of the National Assembly, the only democratic-elected institution in Venezuela. And we have received the support of more than 50 countries.

KELLY: But what gives you hope? Because again, the weeks - the days and weeks keep passing. What's going to change? Maduro has given zero indication he's interested in stepping down.

VECCHIO: Again, we are putting pressure in different levels - on the streets and also using the National Assembly passing, you know, resolution and laws to force the transition and making call to the military force to back Juan Guaido and to respect the constitution.

KELLY: So far, the military sounds still firmly behind him for the most part.

VECCHIO: Yeah. I mean, they are loyal until they aren't. That has been our history. But we need to increase the pressure.

KELLY: But how to increase the pressure, I pressed Vecchio. There are economic measures, sanctions - the U.S. has already imposed those. And then there's the possibility of U.S.-led military intervention. I asked Vecchio, would you support that?

VECCHIO: That's something which is not in place right now. I mean, we need to focus on Maduro. He's the person who's causing this situation in Venezuela. He's causing the consequences of a war. Nobody...

KELLY: So is the military part - how is that playing out in your conversations when you speak to people at the State Department here in Washington?

VECCHIO: Nobody wants a war. That's why we need to increase the pressure.

KELLY: But you don't want Maduro to stay in power, so...

VECCHIO: Correct, and that's why we need to increase the pressure right now in order to find this peaceful solution. And I can understand that that can be an option. We need to avoid that under the principle of Responsibility To Protect, which was approved by the U.N. in 2005. When you have a regime that is literally killing the people of his country, I mean, you have the moral obligation to protect that population.

KELLY: So you're saying you don't rule out U.S. military intervention. You're not calling for U.S. military intervention. That's a bridge you're not anywhere near beginning to cross yet.

VECCHIO: No. I would say that that's an option that we need to evaluate, but what we need to now is to facilitate a peaceful transition in Venezuela.

KELLY: Carlos Vecchio has not been in his country since June 2014. He's been in exile these last five years. He told me he hopes that changes, hopes he won't be calling himself by the title ambassador for long.

VECCHIO: You know, I have said that this will be the shortest position that I ever had because as soon as we take control of the government, I would return to my country. And I will - through the Simon Bolivar Bridge which connects Colombia with Venezuela. And I will return to my country.

KELLY: And for you, as long as Maduro is in power, you cannot return.

VECCHIO: No, I cannot because I will be in jail immediately. And I think I do more outside of Venezuela instead of being, you know, behind bars.

KELLY: That's Carlos Vecchio, the Venezuelan opposition's envoy to the United States. We were speaking in one of the diplomatic buildings here in Washington that the opposition took over this week. Vecchio says he has his sights trained next on Venezuela's embassy here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.