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US defies Venezuela’s Maduro’s call for diplomats to leave in 72 hours

U.S. Secretary of State MIchael R. Pompeo speaks at a press conference at King Khalid International Airport Royal Terminal in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on January 14, 2019. (U.S. State Department/Released)
January 24, 2019

U.S. diplomats in Venezuela are going to remain there and will not leave as directed by now-former President Nicolas Maduro, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday night.

This is an unprecedented move that continues to show the United States’ support for interim President Juan Guaido, who swore himself in on Wednesday after the people of Venezuela urged him to take action against the Maduro regime. The United States has recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s president.

“The United States maintains diplomatic relations with Venezuela and will conduct our relations with Venezuela through the government of interim President [Juan] Guaido, who has invited our mission to remain in Venezuela,” Pompeo said in a statement. “The United States does not recognize the Maduro regime as the government of Venezuela. Accordingly the United States does not consider former president Nicolas Maduro to have the legal authority to break diplomatic relations with the United States or to declare our diplomats persona non grata.”

“The United States stands with interim President Juan Guaido, the democratically elected National Assembly, and the people of Venezuela as they peacefully restore constitutional order to their country. We stand ready to support interim President Guaido as he establishes a transitional government and carries out his constitutional duties as interim President, including determining the status of diplomatic representatives in the United States and other countries,” Pompeo said.

“We call on the Venezuelan military and security forces to continue protecting the welfare and well-being of all Venezuelan citizens, as well as U.S. and other foreign citizens in Venezuela. We call on all parties to refrain from measures that are inconsistent with the privileges and immunities enjoyed by members of the diplomatic community. The United States will take appropriate actions to hold accountable anyone who endangers the safety and security of our mission and its personnel,” Pompeo added.

Venezuela is suffering economic collapse due to hyperinflation, and mass protests have been underway across the country since Maduro was inaugurated to his second term on Jan. 10.

On Wednesday, Guaido, 35, swore himself in as the temporary president, backed by the widespread support of thousands of Venezuelans. Guaido recently became head of the opposition party, which controls the Venezuelan congress.

Venezuelans had boycotted the last election, declaring Maduro’s re-election as fraudulent, while supporting opposition leader Guaido and urging him to assume the presidency.

The U.S. on Wednesday recognized Guaido as the president of Venezuela, an unprecedented move.

President Trump tweeted Wednesday afternoon, saying, “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.”

Maduro on Wednesday later called for all U.S. diplomats to leave the country, giving them 72 hours to do so. He called the United States’ move of recognizing Guaido an attempt at a “coup.”

Guaido has called on U.S. diplomats to ignore Maduro’s orders and instead remain in the country.

“Through the powers that the Constitution grants me, I would like to communicate to all leaders of diplomatic missions and their accredited staff in Venezuela — the state of Venezuela firmly wants you to maintain your diplomatic presence in our country. Any messages to the contrary lack any validity, since they come from people or entities that have been characterized as usurpers. They have no legitimate authority to make any statements on this,” he said, according to a translated message provided by CNN.

The White House on Wednesday issued a statement from President Trump that officially recognized Guaido:

Today, I am officially recognizing the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as the Interim President of Venezuela.  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.  The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law.

I will continue to use the full weight of United States economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy.  We encourage other Western Hemisphere governments to recognize National Assembly President Guaido as the Interim President of Venezuela, and we will work constructively with them in support of his efforts to restore constitutional legitimacy.  We continue to hold the illegitimate Maduro regime directly responsible for any threats it may pose to the safety of the Venezuelan people.  As Interim President Guaido noted yesterday: “Violence is the usurper’s weapon; we only have one clear action: to remain united and firm for a democratic and free Venezuela.”

The controversy has grabbed the attention of Russia, who is an ally of Venezuela and has recently strengthened ties with them.