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By Agence France-Presse

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro had been ready Tuesday to fly into exile in Cuba until he was dissuaded by Russia, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, amid a military uprising in Caracas.

“He had an airplane on the tarmac, he was ready to leave this morning as we understand it, and the Russians indicated that he should stay,” Pompeo told CNN.

“He was headed for Havana.”

Asked if he had a message to the leftist leader, Pompeo said simply: “Fire up the plane.”

Pompeo, a former CIA director, declined to specify the source of his information, but said the United States was talking to “scores and scores of people on the ground” as well as looking at open-source material.

The United States has had “many, many conversations that have given us every indication that the fact that Maduro’s plane was parked on the tarmac and he was preparing himself to depart is a fact,” he said.

The United States earlier said that it knew that three senior Venezuelan leaders including the defense minister had planned to oust Maduro and support Juan Guaido, the opposition leader recognized as interim president by the United States and most Latin American and European nations.

China, Cuba and Russia remain the key backers of Maduro, who presides over a crumbling economy that has sent millions of Venezuelans fleeing.

US officials have charged that Cuban military support is propping up Maduro.

“With respect to the Cubans, we have had the opportunity to communicate to them that we find it unacceptable that they’re protecting this thug,” Pompeo said.

President Donald Trump earlier threatened Cuba with a trade embargo over its military support to Maduro. It is unclear what additional measures he had in mind as the communist island is already heavily sanctioned by Washington.

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