Washington: US President Donald Trump on Wednesday said that he officially recognises the new speaker of Venezuela's National Assembly as that nation's interim president, a move aimed at ratcheting up pressure on leftist head of state Nicolas Maduro.
Trump's announced his decision in a statement released just minutes after Juan Guaido told a large crowd of supporters in Caracas that he was assuming the powers of Venezuela's executive branch and would fight against Maduro's "usurpation" of the presidency.
"Today, I am officially recognizing the president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as the Interim President of Venezuela," Trump's statement said, reports Efe.
"In its role as the only legitimate branch of government duly elected by the Venezuelan people, the National Assembly (the opposition-controlled unicameral legislature) invoked the country's constitution to declare Nicolas Maduro illegitimate, and the office of the presidency therefore vacant," he added.
Trump said he would continue to employ the "full weight of US economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy."
The president also urged other governments of the Americas to recognise Guaido as Venezuela's interim head of state.
"We continue to hold the illegitimate Maduro regime directly responsible for any threats it may pose to the safety of the Venezuelan people," the president said.
"The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law," Trump added.
The announcement comes a day after Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who is a member of the Senate's Committee on Foreign Relations, met with Trump and asked him to recognize Guaido as Venezuela's legitimate president.
The governments of Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Costa Rica also announced Wednesday in Davos, Switzerland, that they recognize Guaido as Venezuela's interim president.
Their announcement came after the presidents of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro; Colombia, Ivan Duque; Costa Rica, Carlos Alvarado; and Ecuador, Lenin Moreno; and Peru's vice president, Mercedes Araoz, took part in a meeting in Davos, where they are attending the World Economic Forum.
But Mexico, which is led by leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, says it continues to recognise Maduro.
The late Hugo Chavez, who served as Venezuela's president from 1999 until his death from cancer in 2013 and was Maduro's predecessor and political mentor, was removed from office for 48 hours in April 2002 in a putsch engineered by military brass, opposition politicians and leaders of the business community.
Chavez, a former paratrooper and avowed socialist, was restored to power by a combination of mass street protests and the unwillingness of some military commanders to countenance the removal of an elected president.
Venezuela, an oil-rich country that has been hammered by lower oil prices and harsh economic sanctions imposed by the US, has been in recession for nearly all of Maduro's time in office.
Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have fled their homeland amid food and medicine shortages and hyperinflation and crossed into Colombia, Peru and other countries.
In 2017, Trump signed an executive order barring US institutions from involvement in any new debt issued by the Venezuelan government or that nation's state oil company, PDVSA.
That move by the US came after Maduro's administration pushed through with plans for a controversial National Constituent Assembly, a plenipotentiary body that took over the functions of the National Assembly, the only institution in the opposition's control.
Prior to Trump's statement Wednesday, the US, the European Union and many of Venezuela's neighbors had dismissed Maduro's re-election victory last May as fraudulent.
Most of Venezuela's opposition boycotted that balloting.