President Donald Trump endorsed Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s opponent Wednesday as the South American country deals with the fallout from a brutal presidential election that many world leaders consider illegitimate.
“The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law,” Trump said in a statement.
The citizens of Venezuela have suffered for too long at the hands of the illegitimate Maduro regime. Today, I have officially recognized the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as the Interim President of Venezuela. https://t.co/WItWPiG9jK
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 23, 2019
Maduro responded Wednesday by announcing he was ending diplomatic relations with the United States and giving U.S. diplomates 72 hours to leave the country.
The socialist leader has come under a barrage of criticism after the election, and opposition to him is growing into a fevered pitch.
“I will continue to use the full weight of United States economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy,” Trump said.
The U.S. president also urged other Western nations to take a similar stance against Maduro, who took over the helm after former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died of cancer in 2013.
Trump becomes the most recent world leader to recognize Juan Guaido, an engineer and head of Venezuela’s opposition-run congress.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro also recognized the 35-year-old technocrat as the rightful winner of May’s election.
Maduro railed against the Brazilian leader in a Jan. 14 statement, calling him a “modern-day Hitler.”
Reports have highlighted Maduro’s reliance on intimidation of the opposition party. Human Rights Watch, for instance, documented hundreds of cases of mistreatment of government opponents, including at least 31 cases of torture, since 2014.
More than 10,000 people have been arrested because of links to anti-government protests, according to the Venezuelan human rights organization Foro Penal. Maduro is becoming more isolated by the day.
Trump slapped sanctions on Venezuela in November. The U.S. will block the movement of all property related to the gold sector of the Venezuelan economy and any goods “directly or indirectly engaged” with the Venezuelan government, according to the text of the executive order.
The president also ordered a round of sanctions in May, shortly after Maduro’s election, to prevent Venezuela from quickly selling key assets to fill the void left from a loss of oil assets.
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