The already tense relationship between the US and Venezuela took a turn for the worse this past week. On January 23, Venezuela’s National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, took an oath as interim President amid nationwide marches in opposition to President Nicolás Maduro, who was elected to a second six-year term last May in an election generally recognized as “questionable” by a majority of countries. “In my condition as president of the National Assembly, invoking the articles of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela … I swear to assume formally the competencies of the national executive,” Guaidó told a crowd of protesters in Caracas.
The Trump Administration immediately recognized Guaidó as the legitimate leader 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,” President Donald Trump said in the statement. “We encourage other Western Hemisphere governments to recognize National Assembly President
The US recognition of Guaido’s claim was followed by Canada, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the OAS, and a slew of Latin American countries including Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Colombia. But Mexico and Spain, critical leaders in the Spanish-speaking world, withheld their support. In response to the US’ bold claim that Juan Guaidó is the legitimate President of Venezuela, President Maduro broke off all diplomatic with the US and gave US diplomats 72 hours to leave the country. Before the people and nations of the world and as constitutional president … I’ve decided to break diplomatic and political relations with the imperialist U.S. government,” Maduro said before an estimated one million supporters who surrounded the capital building.
Since assuming office two years ago, the Trump administration has made the government Venezuela (alongside Iran and North Korea) one of its significant targets of aggression and sanctions. For example, President Donald Trump increased sanctions on individuals and entities linked to the Maduro government, including sanctions on gold and oil trade, which are significant sources for the foreign currency of Venezuela. Additionally, Administration officials said further economic and diplomatic actions are on the table. “Everything is on the table, all options, but on the economic sphere, if you look at what we’ve done, there is still a tremendous amount of leverage in our toolbox,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Secretary Pompeo also refused to rule out US military action against Venezuela. “We have a host of options, we will take every single one of those options seriously, [The Maduro regime has] no immediate future, they will have no immediate livelihood, and they will have their days counted,” Pompeo added.