Thursday, January 24, 2019

President Trump Recognizes Venezuelan Oppostion Leader

The scale of the protests is absolutely stunning.

Even veteran die-hard Trump-haters are praising him for backing the opposition leader in Venezuela, including former Mexican President Vicente Fox.

At the Los Angeles Times, "As protesters fill streets of Venezuela, Trump recognizes opposition leader as rightful president":

As masses of Venezuelans turned out to protest their government, the Trump administration took the unusual and provocative step Wednesday of recognizing the leader of Venezuela’s political opposition as the country's legitimate president.

In Caracas, the leader, a young and charismatic engineer named Juan Guaido, declared he was assuming the mantle of acting president — and braced for reaction from President Nicolas Maduro and his security forces.

And react he did: Maduro announced he was breaking diplomatic ties, already strained, with Washington and giving U.S. personnel 72 hours to abandon the country. But Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo said late Wednesday that the U.S had no plans to withdraw personnel.

“Anyone can declare himself president, but it’s the Venezuelan people who elect him, not the gringo government,” Maduro declared to his supporters rallying outside the presidential palace. He swiftly branded Guaido a “puppet” of U.S. “imperialism.”

The dramatic escalation came as the Trump administration seeks ways to ramp up pressure on Maduro’s socialist government, which it accuses of widespread human rights abuse, drug trafficking and a host of other crimes. Already, Washington has blacklisted 70 senior Venezuelan officials and entities and put sanctions on some of its export industries.

Venezuela has teetered on the verge of collapse for some time, mired in social and economic chaos that has depleted supplies of food and medicine and sent millions of Venezuelans fleeing as refugees. Roughly 80% of the people here now live in poverty.

In a statement, President Trump said he was recognizing Guaido as the interim president of Venezuela because he is the head of “the only legitimate branch of government duly elected by the Venezuelan people,” a reference to the country’s National Assembly, Venezuela's legislative body that Maduro has sidelined and replaced with his own legislature stacked with his supporters.

The sequence of events represented a rare and potentially dangerous dive into international diplomacy unusual for this administration. It delivered a diplomatic blow to Maduro, but a much-needed boost to the long-suffering, largely ineffective opposition movement.

The movement was in need of new energy after Maduro’s violent suppression in 2017 of nationwide marches that left protesters dispirited and leaderless. An estimated 165 people died, 15,000 were injured and at least 4,800 arrested.

Wednesday’s march, which occurred on the anniversary of the 1958 overthrow of dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez, was seen as a test of Guaido’s strength of leadership and ability to summon the masses to the street, a test he seems to have passed.

“Today, on Jan. 23, in my status as National Assembly president before all powerful God, and my colleagues, I swear to formally assume the duties of national executive to achieve the end of usurpation, [form] a transitional government and [hold] free elections,” Guaido told tens of thousands of Venezuelans who crowded Caracas’ downtown streets.

“I am not afraid, [rather] I fear for the people who are [living in] bad times,” Guaido proclaimed...