Politician Juan Guaido, head of Venezuela’s opposition-led Congress, on Wednesday declared himself “acting president” following President Nicolas Maduro’s contested swearing in to a second term two weeks ago.
The announcement was made on the 61st anniversary of the coup d’etat that overthrew dictator Marcos Pérez Jimenez. This year, tens of thousands turned out to demand Maduro’s resignation. At least seven people were killed in the chaos.
President Trump recognized Guaido as the true president of Venezuela just minutes after his announcement.
“In its role as the only legitimate branch of government duly elected by the Venezuelan people, the National Assembly invoked the country’s constitution to declare Nicolas Maduro illegitimate, and the office of the presidency therefore vacant,” explained Trump. “The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law.”
Other nations to back Guaidó include: Canada, Costa Rica, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia, and Chile.
Maduro responded to Trump’s announcement by giving US envoys in Venezuela three days to leave the country, but US officials say he doesn’t have the legal authority to do that.
“The United States does not recognize the Maduro regime,” said Sec. of State Mike Pompeo. The US “does not consider [Maduro] to have the legal authority to break diplomatic relations with the US or to declare our diplomats persona non grata.”
Pompeo assured Guaido he would have full US support as he establishes a transitional government and prepares for democratic elections.
“The Venezuelan people have suffered long enough under Nicolas Maduro’s disastrous dictatorship,” continued Pompeo, referring to the economic collapse which caused food and medicine shortages, triple-digit inflation, high crime rates, and the exodus of three million people.
“We call on Maduro to step aside in favor of a legitimate leader reflecting the will of the Venezuelan people.”
Starting Wednesday, the United States will refuse any transactions with the Maduro regime. This will lead to a host of consequences for Venezuela and could give Guaidó’s fledgling government a chance to take control of oil revenue.
US involvement is also expected to cause global tensions.
“This is going to escalate nationally and internationally with the Maduro regime doing everything it can to marshal support from Beijing and Moscow,” warns research consultant Michael McCarthy. “Those actors might not support Maduro’s style or leadership, but they’re there to push back against the US and they’re not going to walk away quickly.”
As Florida lawmaker Marco Rubio has warned, the Maduro regime is likely to use the unrest to further crack down on Venezuelans – including blocking Internet access and throwing around accusations of treason and terrorism.
In the meantime, Maduro can expect support from Russia, Turkey, China, his military, and roughly one-third of Venezuela’s remaining population. Guaidó will be under constant threat of arrest until the situation changes.