President Donald Trump endorsed Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s opponent Wednesday as the South American country deals with the fallout from a brutal presidential election that many world leaders consider illegitimate.
“I am officially recognizing the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaido,” Trump said in a statement. Maduro has come under a barrage of criticism after the election as opposition to the socialist leader is growing into a fevered pitch.
“The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law,” Trump added. “I will continue to use the full weight of United States economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy.”
The U.S. president also urged other Western nations to take a similar stance against Maduro, who took over the helm after former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died of cancer in 2013.
Trump becomes the most recent world leader to recognize Juan Guaido, an engineer and head of Venezuela’s opposition-run congress. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro also recognized the 35-year-old technocrat as the rightful winner of May’s election. Maduro railed against the Brazilian leader in a Jan. 14 statement, calling him a “modern day Hitler.”
Reports have highlighted Maduro’s reliance on intimidation of the opposition party. Human Rights Watch, for instance, documented hundreds of cases of mistreatment of government opponents, including at least 31 cases of torture, since 2014.
More than 10,000 people have been arrested because of links to anti-government protests, according to the Venezuelan human rights organization Foro Penal. Maduro is becoming more isolated by the day. (RELATED: Trump Says Democrats Will Turn America Into Venezuela)
Trump slapped sanctions on Venezuela in November. The U.S. will block the movement of all property related to the gold sector of the Venezuelan economy, any goods “directly or indirectly engaged” with the Venezuelan government, according to the text of the executive order.
Trump also ordered a round of sanctions in May, shortly after Maduro’s election, to prevent Venezuela from quickly selling key assets to fill the void left from a loss of oil assets.
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