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Venezuela crisis: Trump recognises opposition leader as president as defiant Maduro tells supporters to ‘resist at all costs’

'The citizens of Venezuela have suffered for too long at the hands of the illegitimate Maduro regime', Mr Trump tweeted

Clark Mindock
New York
,Will Kirby
Wednesday 23 January 2019 14:23 GMT
Juan Guaidó declares himself interim president of Venezuela

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido has declared himself the country’s interim president, winning support from Washington, prompting the beleaguered socialist Nicolas Maduro to sever diplomatic ties with the US.

Donald Trump was among the first leaders in the Americas to recognise Mr Guaido’s claim to the presidency, tweeting that the Venezuelan people “have suffered for too long at the hands of the illegitimate Maduro regime”.

The US president’s remarks were swiftly followed by similar statements from Canada and right-leaning Latin American governments, including Venezuela’s neighbours Brazil and Colombia.

The recognition came after Mr Guaido told a rally in the capital Caracas that Mr Maduro had usurped power, and he promised to create a transitional government that would help the country escape its hyperinflationary economic collapse.

“I swear to assume all the powers of the presidency to secure an end to the usurpation,” the 35-year-old told hundreds of thousands of exuberant supporters who had gathered in Caracas.

Venezuela has experienced a series of food and medicine shortages, as well as widespread crime as the country’s economic woes have rendered the bolivar currency virtually worthless. Thousands of Venezuelans have fled to neighbouring countries to escape the economic crisis.

In response to Mr Guaido’s claims and the international response, Mr Maduro – who began a second term in office on 10 January following a widely boycotted election last year – accused the opposition of seeking to stage a coup with the support of the United States, which he said was seeking to govern Venezuela from Washington.

He also announced he was cutting diplomatic ties with the US and gave American diplomatic personnel 72 hours to leave the country.

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Speaking from the presidential palace to a crowd of red-shirted supporters, Mr Maduro said the US was making a “grave mistake”, and noted that countries including Guatemala, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina had all seen their leftist governments toppled during the Cold War with the help of American intervention.

“The imperial government of the United States is leading a coup attempt against us in order to install a puppet presidency that they can control in Venezuela,” Mr Maduro raged. “Before the people and nations of the world, and as constitutional president ... I have decided to break all political and diplomatic relations with the US. Get out! Leave Venezuela. We have (our) dignity dammit!”

Mr Guaido, meanwhile, has received praise from a host of western allies after vowing to hold legitimate elections “and to re-establish the constitution we need the agreement of all Venezuelans”.

The declaration takes Venezuela into uncharted territory, with the possibility of the opposition now running a parallel government recognised abroad as legitimate but without control over state functions.

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In a statement, Mr Trump described the national assembly as the “only legitimate branch of government duly elected by the Venezuelan people” and warned Mr Maduro not to resort to violence.

“We continue to hold the illegitimate Maduro regime directly responsible for any threats it may pose to the safety of the Venezuelan people,” he said.

Asked if the US would consider a military option if Mr Maduro refused to cede power, he said: “We’re not considering anything but all options on the table. All options, always, all options are on the table.”

The violence that has gripped the country for months continued throughout the day, with four people reported dead following clashes between rival supporters and police. Tear gas was fired at demonstrators as hundreds of thousands gathered across the country as the events unfolded.

Mr Trump’s recognition of Mr Guaidó as acting president comes after vice president Mike Pence penned an opinion article expressing support for the opposition. Mr Pence wrote that the United States stands with the protesters standing up in opposition to Mr Maduro.

“Nicolas Maduro has no legitimate claim to power,” Mr Pence wrote in The Wall Street Journal. “Nicolás Maduro must go.”

But, Mr Maduro retained support from other countries in the western hemisphere, including from Bolivia’s leftist president, Evo Morales, who affirmed his alliance with the Maduro government on Wednesday and tweeted in solidarity against the United States’ attempts to meddle in the affairs of South American countries.

“Our solidarity with the Venezuelan people and our brother Nicolas Maduro, in these decisive hours in which the claws of imperialism seek again to mortally wound the democracy and self-determination of the peoples of South American”, Mr Morales tweeted.

Additional reporting by agencies

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