President Donald Trump welcomed Venezuelan President Juan Guaidó to Congress as a distinguished guest of his State of the Union address on Tuesday, vowing that America would stand behind his legitimate claim to power against dictator Nicolás Maduro.
Guaidó became president in January 2019 after Maduro’s last presidential term ended. Maduro refused to step down, claiming the presidency based on a largely fraudulent 2018 election in which he allowed only Marxist candidates to participate. The National Assembly, the Venezuelan legislature, used its constitutional power to replace Maduro with the leader of their branch of government, Guaidó, but Maduro retains control of the armed forces and the presidential palace illegally.
Guaidó is currently on a world tour to galvanize support for his interim presidency and allies in helping oust Maduro from power. Guaidó was a member of the socialist Popular Will party when he became president but left the party this month to dedicate himself completely to the campaign to restore democracy in his country.
“The United States is leading a 59-nation diplomatic coalition against the socialist dictator of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro,” Trump noted in his remarks. “Maduro is an illegitimate ruler, a tyrant who brutalizes his people. But Maduro’s grip of tyranny will be smashed and broken.”
“Here this evening is a man who carries with him the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of all Venezuelans. Joining us in the gallery is the true and legitimate President of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó,” Trump continued, allowing for a pause for the chamber to applaud Guaidó and offer him a standing ovation. “Mr. President, please take this message back to your homeland: All Americans are united with the Venezuelan people in their righteous struggle for freedom! Socialism destroys nations. But always remember, freedom unifies the soul.”
The moment comes after months of growing restlessness and doubt surrounding Guaidó, who declared in April last year that the Venezuelan military had agreed to obey him, only to have Maduro and his defense minister, Vladimir Padrino López, mock him on state television and leave him once again powerless. Guaidó later agreed to “talks” with the Maduro regime brokered by Norway, a nation that does not recognize Guaidó’s legitimacy and a political move widely panned by the Venezuelan people.
Guaidó remains, nonetheless, the legitimate president of Venezuela. Venezuela’s constitution states that, in the event of a “rupture of the democratic order,” such as a president refusing to step down after his term ends, the National Assembly can appoint an interim president tasked with organizing elections.
Venezuela is currently suffering through the worst humanitarian crisis in its history. After 20 years of socialist rule, the nation’s economy has collapsed, leaving a broken electric grid, hospitals with a near-complete shortage of every basic medicine on the World Health Organization’s list of necessary medications, empty markets, and streets laden with garbage, where many Venezuelans scavenge to eat. Maduro has blamed President Donald Trump, and Barack Obama before him, for the crisis.