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Venezuelan president cuts official US ties, gives US diplomats 72 hours to leave country

Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro, delivers a speech during a ceremony in which he received the credential as President-elect for the 2019-2025 period in Caracas, Venezuela, 22 May 2018. Maudro declares US Charge d'Affaires, Todd Robinson, persona non grata, and gave him 48 hours to leave the country. (Miguel Gutierrez/EFE/ ZUMA Press/TNS)
January 23, 2019

Relations between the U.S. and Venezuela have quickly soured after President Trump officially recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, a socialist, has declared he is ending diplomatic relations with the U.S. and is giving U.S. diplomats 72 hours to vacate the country, the Washington Post reported Wednesday.

As Venezuela suffers through its economic collapse due to hyperinflation, mass protests have been underway across the country since Maduro was inaugurated to his second term on Jan. 10.

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

“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,” Maduro said during a televised speech on Wednesday, as CNN reported.

Guaido, 35, recently became head of the opposition party, which controls the Venezuelan congress. With the support of the protesters, he has said he is willing to assume the presidency and lead the Venezuelan government to a new direction with free elections.

“I swear to assume all the powers of the presidency to secure an end to the usurpation,” Guaido told a crowd of supporters as he swore himself in as the temporary president, Reuters reported.

At least four protesters have been fatally shot by Venezuelan police.

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, in a translated message provided by CNN.

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.”

The White House issued a statement from President Trump which 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.

Andrei Klimov, deputy chairman of the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said, “I think that in this developing situation the United States is trying to carry out an operation to organize the next color revolution in Venezuela,” the Associated Press reported.

Vladimir Dzhabrailov, who also serves on the committee, reiterated the remarks, saying, “I do not think that we can recognize this — it is, in essence, a coup.”

Maduro could recognize Guaido’s actions as a coup attempt and take action against him, but has not yet done so at this time.