Venezuela reacted with outrage Monday after the opposition openly courted US military support, with the government denouncing what it called a "repugnant" attempt to plot an armed intervention in the crisis-torn country.
Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez lambasted the move by opposition leader Juan Guaido's representative in Washington, accusing him of paving the way for a US "military intervention."
Guaido's envoy Carlos Vecchio sent a letter to US Southern Command Chief General Craig Faller requesting a meeting to discuss closer cooperation "with the aim of alleviating the suffering of the Venezuelan people and restoring democracy," his aides said Monday.
Faller last week warned the Venezuelan army it must decide whether to support the people or a "tyrant" -- a reference to embattled President Nicolas Maduro.
Despite economic collapse and international isolation, the embattled socialist president has to date retained the support of the powerful military.
Guaido, locked in a power struggle with Maduro since he declared himself interim president in January -- winning recognition from more than 50 countries -- has sought to ratchet up pressure on the government abroad as his support at home has waned.
However, his open courting of the US Southern Command, responsible for the Latin American region, is a bold new step for Guaido, following the failure of an April 30 uprising.
It comes after Faller said in a tweet on Friday that he was at Guaido's disposal to discuss "support" for military leaders who abandon Maduro.
Vecchio's office said the meeting could take place in the coming days.
"We read and we reject this repugnant letter, in which one of the coup leaders hiding today in Washington, asks for military intervention in Venezuela," Rodriguez said in her speech.
Alongside Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino, she said such a "submissive" stance was not only to be condemned but was "doomed to failure."
Padrino and army chiefs have made repeated public pledges of support for Maduro and high-profile defections have been few and far between.
In a video message posted late Sunday on Twitter, the Venezuelan air force's General Ramon Rangel urged the military to forsake Maduro. "It's time to rise up, it's time to fight," he urged.
Rangel -- who appeared in civilian clothes and whose location is unknown -- is the latest of several military figures to call on Venezuela's military to abandon Maduro.
Army sources in Caracas dismissed Rangel as irrelevant, saying he had not been active in the military for years.
Another air force general, Francisco Yanez, pledged his allegiance to opposition leader Juan Guaido on February 2 -- but with few exceptions, the army has remained in Maduro's corner.
The highest-profile defector has been intelligence chief Cristopher Figuera, who joined the opposition last month.
Figuera and 55 other officers have been expelled from the Venezuelan armed forces, and Maduro has followed up with a crackdown on lawmakers who backed Guaido's uprising, chipping away at his support base inside the country.
At his weekly anti-government rally on Saturday, Guaido urged his supporters to maintain nationwide protests in the face of the crackdown, in which his deputy Edgar Zambrano and nine others have been arrested for treason.
Some 1,500 to 2,000 people filled a square in an opposition-friendly part of eastern Caracas to hear Guaido, but that was far fewer than the several thousands who took part in earlier protests.
Maduro, re-elected last year in elections, has presided over the collapse of once-rich Venezuela, which sits on the world's biggest oil reserves.
The country has suffered more than four years of recession marked by shortages of basic necessities such as food and medicine.
The United Nations says a quarter of Venezuela's 30 million population are in urgent need of aid, and more than 2.7 million have fled the deprivation.
The United States, Guaido's main international backer, has not ruled out a military intervention to resolve the Venezuelan crisis, which Maduro said is a naked attempt to appropriate the country's vast oil reserves.