Trump Recognizes Venezuelan Opposition Leader as ‘Interim President’

Nicholas Maduro sits among other officials as he attends a plenary session with CARICOM leaders at the Hilton Trinidad and Conference Centre, July 6, 2013. (Andrea De Silva/Reuters)

Update 3:28p.m.: Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro announced Wednesday that he will cut off diplomatic relations with the U.S. in response to President Trump’s recognition of Juan Gaido, the president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, as interim president of the country.

President Trump on Wednesday declared Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro illegitimate and officially recognized Juan Gaido, the president of the Venezuelan National Assembly and a vehement critic of Maduro’s government, as the country’s interim president.

“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 White House statement.

Trump’s announcement came after Gaido swore himself in as president Wednesday following the National Assembly’s invocation of the Venezuelan Constitution to declare Maduro’s recent reelection illegitimate and the presidency vacant.

Venezuelans took to the streets of Caracas on Wednesday in anticipation of Gaido’s swearing in to protest against Maduro’s consolidation of power and trampling of democracy.

Gaido has successfully galvanized disparate segments of the opposition to Maduro in the wake of the strongman’s reelection earlier this month, and has vowed to hold a new election once he is ousted — a process opposition leaders hope will be expedited by military leaders defecting in the face of mass protests.

Vice President Mike Pence issued a statement Tuesday expressing support for the anti-Maduro opposition.

A delegation of Florida lawmakers met with administration officials, including Pence and national-security adviser John Bolton, on Tuesday to ask that the president recognize Gaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president.

“We encouraged the president today to follow through with what he’s already declared, which is that Maduro is illegitimate. The next logical step is to recognize the president of the National Assembly as the rightful president,” Rubio told reporters after leaving the White House Tuesday.

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