Venezuela’s dictator Nicolás Maduro announced that his country would cut all diplomatic ties with the United States following the swearing in of Interim President Juan Guaidó to restore the constitutional order. President Donald Trump recognized Guaidó, and not Maduro, as the legitimate president of Venezuela on Wednesday.
Guaidó is the head of the country’s National Assembly, the federal legislative body and the only branch of government elected freely and fairly by the Venezuelan people. Guaidó organized nationwide protests Wednesday, the anniversary of the establishment of democracy in 1958, that attracted thousands of protesters in the country’s biggest cities.
Maduro spoke several hours after Guaidó took a public oath of office in Caracas, declaring himself the president of the country with the support of a broad coalition of opposition groups. He refused to name Guaidó in his remarks, referring to him only as “some nobody,” instead directing his ire towards the United States.
— Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) January 23, 2019
Speaking before a crowd at a government-organized rally in front of the presidential palace, Miraflores, Maduro announced that all U.S. diplomatic personnel had 72 hours to leave the country.
“I have decided to cut all diplomatic ties with the imperialist government of the United States,” he announced. “Get out of Venezuela, enough is enough! There is dignity here, damn it!”
“The imperialist government of the United States is directing an operation to impose a puppet government via coup d’etat to back its interests in Venezuela. They want to choose the president of Venezuela through unconstitutional means,” he argued. “Who elects the president of Venezuela? Can some nobody self-inaugurate himself as president?”
Maduro personally accused Vice President Mike Pence of “issuing an order through Twitter yesterday” for Guaidó to take power, apparently referring to a video Pence uploaded with a message to the Venezuelan people: that Washington would support their efforts to end socialist tyranny in the country and that the U.S. supported the National Assembly. Pence referred to Maduro as an “usurper,” the preferred word Venezuelan legislators use to refer to Maduro.
Maduro “won” an election last year in which over 80 percent of voters did not participate. Those who did reported widespread irregularities and fraud at the voting booths, including harassment from Maduro socialists and violence by socialist gangs known as colectivos.
He went on to claim that he has international support, despite countries like Colombia, Brazil, and Canada joining America in rejecting him. The support, he alleged, was from Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, who he said called Maduro personally to extend Turkey’s backing.
Maduro also went on to warn the opposition against the “gringos.” “The gringos have no friends and have no loyalties to anyone,” Maduro said. “They have interests and they have gall. They want Venezuelan oil, Venezuelan gas, Venezuelan gold.”
Guaidó, the president of the National Assembly before legally taking the presidency, vowed to allow humanitarian aid into the country and organize free and fair elections in his role as interim leader. He is a member of the socialist Popular Will party, which opposes the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) led by Maduro.
President Trump welcomed Guaidó to the presidency on Wednesday.
“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,” Trump said in a statement. “The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law.”
“We encourage other Western Hemisphere governments to recognize National Assembly President Guaidó as the Interim President of Venezuela, and we will work constructively with them in support of his efforts to restore constitutional legitimacy,” Trump added. “As Interim President Guaidó 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.’”