Venezuela has been long-recognized as a nation under the thumb of a brutal communist regime — and on Wednesday, President Donald Trump took a courageous step in mending the fracturing nation with one MAJOR tweet:
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
In an official letter from the POTUS, Trump denounced Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, the socialist who many accused of creating unrest in the Latin American nation.
Tuesday, Maduro said that relations with the United States hit a “200-year low” after Vice President Mike Pence officially labelled the South American communist a dictator.
The transition of power to Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guiado is not only what Venezuelans wanted, but will likely neutralize the unrest and emigration due to the Maduro’s deadly policies.
Guaido declared himself interim president in a defiant speech Wednesday before huge numbers of anti-communist demonstrators that took to the streets to demand Maduro’s immediate resignation.
Guaido immediately drew recognition from the Trump administration, which said it would use the “full weight” of U.S. economic and diplomatic power to push for the restoration of Venezuela’s democracy.
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Raising his right hand in union with tens of thousands of supporters, the head of the opposition-controlled congress took a symbolic oath before God to assume executive powers he says are his right under Venezuela’s constitution and take over the presidency until new elections can be called.
Guaido said he was taking the politically risky step just two weeks after Maduro took his own oath to a second six-year term confident that it was the only way to rescue Venezuela from “dictatorship” and restore constitutional order
“We know that this will have consequences,” Guaido, 35, told the cheering crowd standing before a lectern emblazoned with Venezuela’s national coat of arms.
“To be able to achieve this task and to re-establish the constitution we need the agreement of all Venezuelans,” he shouted.
The declaration came as tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators poured into the streets Wednesday accusing embattled Maduro of usurping power and demanding he step down as the country reels from a crushing economic crisis forcing millions to flee or go hungry.
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Large crowds of protesters gathered in Caracas waving flags and chanting “Get out Maduro!” in what was the largest demonstration since a wave of unrest that left more than 120 dead in 2017.
Pro-government demonstrators dressed in red in support of Maduro were also marching in the capital, at times crossing paths with opposition protesters and shouting “sell outs” and “traitors.” National guardsmen launched tear gas at anti-government protesters in the middle-class neighborhood of El Paraiso but for the most part the marches continued without conflict.
“Join us!” the protesters cried out to a line of officers wearing helmets and carrying shields. “You are also living this crisis!”
The protest is considered a crucial test for the reinvigorated opposition as it seeks to send a forceful message that Maduro no longer has the people’s backing and appeals to the military and the poor to shift loyalties that until recently looked solidly behind the president. The protests were called to coincide with an historic date for Venezuelans — the anniversary of the 1958 coup that overthrew military dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez.
“The democratic forces are here advancing,” opposition leader Maria Corina Machado said as she marched. “Not so that Maduro changes but so that he leaves.”
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President Donald J. Trump in a statement called on other Western hemisphere governments to join him in recognizing Guaido.
“The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law,” Trump said.
The demonstration comes after a whirlwind week that saw an uprising by a tiny military unit put down by government forces, fires set during protests in poor neighborhoods and the brief detention by security forces of Guaido, the newly installed head of the opposition-controlled congress.
Guaido, who is took the reins from a long list of better-known predecessors who have been exiled, outlawed or jailed, was dragged from an SUV just over a week ago by intelligence agents but was quickly released amid an international outcry.
Driving the crisis was Maduro’s decision to ignore international opposition and take the presidential oath on Jan. 10 for a second term widely considered illegitimate after his main opponents were banned from running against him.
Over the last two nights, Venezuelans angry over their country’s spiraling hyperinflation, and food and medical shortages have gathered in the streets banging pots and pans and setting up barricades in protest. The economy of Venezuela has collapsed under decades of communist rule.
In the city of San Felix, residents set fire to a statue of Maduro’s mentor and predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez.
In the southern city of Ciudad Bolivar, a 30-year-old worker, Carlos Olivares, was killed when four unidentified men descended from a beige Jeep and fired upon a crowd that was looting a store. Two more unidentified people were also killed, according to a police report of the incident, while two were injured.
For much of the past two years, following a deadly crackdown on the 2017 protests and the failure of negotiations ahead of last May’s boycotted presidential election, the coalition of opposition parties has been badly divided over strategy and other differences as millions of desperate Venezuelans fled the country’s hyperinflation and widespread food shortages. But buoyed by unprecedented international criticism of Maduro, anti-government forces have put aside their infighting and are projecting a united front.
In the run-up to Wednesday’s protests, Guaido crisscrossed Caracas attending outdoor assemblies known as “open cobildos” — for the revolutionary citizen councils held against Spanish colonial rule — pumping up crowds by arguing that Maduro must go for democracy to be restored.
“We are tired of this disaster,” he said Monday from the roof of a college building. “We know this isn’t a fight of a single day but one that requires lots of resistance.”
An enthusiastic crowd of students answered with shouts of “Freedom!”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.