Washington has explicitly expressed its support for a potential coup against the elected Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, by offering its backing to the opposition and stating outright it was time for a “new government.”
“The Maduro regime is illegitimate and the United States will continue … to work diligently to restore a real democracy” to Venezuela, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters on his trip to the Middle East on Saturday, adding that Washington would attempt to make the Latin American nations “come together to deliver that.”
The US’ top diplomat’s words came in the wake of Maduro’s inauguration for another term in power, which drew widespread condemnation from the US and its allies in the region. The head of the opposition-controlled Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, said on Friday that he was ready to take over the president’s office and asked for help from the military and the “international community.”
The US was quick to support the upstart challenger; it almost immediately threw its weight behind the National Assembly president. First, US National Security Advisor John Bolton welcomed what he called Guaidó’s “courageous decision” while denouncing Maduro’s “claim to power” as “illegitimate.”
On Saturday the US State Department went even further when it said in a statement “it is to begin the orderly transition to a new government” while repeatedly praising “the commitment to democratic principles of the elected members of the Venezuelan National Assembly.” It also called on the Venezuelan people and the army to “uphold and respect the role of the National Assembly” and ensure “all protections the constitution affords to Guaidó.”
The Organization of American States (OAS), a regional cooperation structure encompassing all sovereign nations of the Americas, also expressed its support for Guaidó: the organization’s secretary general Luis Almagro had already said the OAS “welcomes Guaidó’s assumption of [the position] of interim president” of Venezuela.
A day after Maduro’s inauguration the opposition-controlled legislature dismissed his election, which was held in May 2018, as illegitimate, and called for protests to oust the president. Guaidó in particular is planning a massive nationwide demonstration on January 23. Maduro himself quickly dismissed the opposition as a “group of little boys.”
Washington and Caracas have been locked in a bitter feud in recent years. US economic pressure and the decline of oil prices have contributed to a severe social and economic crisis in the Latin American country. US President Donald Trump repeatedly called Maduro a “dictator” and blamed him for the humanitarian problems in Venezuela, while Maduro, in turn, repeatedly accused the US of collaborating with Venezuelan neighbors and the opposition in his own country to oust him.
Indeed, the US had allegedly plotted more than once to oust Maduro from power. A report by AP claimed that Trump actually considered invading Venezuela outright to overthrow Maduro. The president reportedly discussed this issue in August 2017 with then-secretary of state Rex Tillerson and then-national security adviser H.R. McMaster.
Another report, by the New York Times, said that the Trump administration was involved in talks with a group of Venezuelan officers plotting to overthrow Maduro for about a year. Washington also imposed increasingly restrictive sanctions on Venezuela’s finances and debt issuance, apparently aiming for a regime change.
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