US rolls out red carpet for Venezuela opposition leader, with Trump administration to take unspecified steps within 30 days
The United States has warned it was preparing crippling and impactful measures designed to force Nicols Maduro from power as Donald Trump rolled out the red carpet for the Venezuelan leaders challenger, Juan Guaid.
Guaid, who has spent the last year battling so far unsuccessfully to topple Maduro, arrived at the White House on Wednesday afternoon and was met by the US president.
Earlier, a senior administration official told reporters to expect the moves against Maduro in the next 30 days, without specifying what form they might take.
We are probably halfway to what maximum pressure [on Maduro] could look like, they said. We are only moving in one direction and that is forwards.
The official said Trump instructed all parts of the US government to use all of the tools at their disposal to further create stress upon Maduro and his cronies.
As that news broke, journalists were abruptly excluded from a planned Oval Office encounter between Trump and Guaid by the White House press office, without immediate explanation.
The previous evening Trump had used his State of the Union address to offer Guaid a high-profile show of support.
As Guaid looked on from the gallery, Trump declared him the true and legitimate president of Venezuela leading a righteous struggle for freedom.
Maduro is an illegitimate ruler but Maduros grip on tyranny will be smashed and broken, Trump vowed to loud applause from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
In a clear sign of how Trump sees Venezuela as an important element of his 2020 presidential campaign, he added: Socialism destroys nations. But always remember, freedom unifies the soul.
Observers described Trumps public blessing as a triumph for Guaid, who defied a travel ban to leave Venezuela last month and is concluding a world tour which also included meetings with Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau.
I think its huge for Guaid, said Guillermo Zubillaga, a Venezuela specialist at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. It erases all the doubts about his leadership it unites people around him and it emboldens him. I dont know how this trip could have been more successful.
Vanessa Neumann, Guaids envoy to the United Kingdom, said Trumps statement of very solid support would also shield Guaid from arrest when he tried to return to Venezuela in the coming days. The senior administration official said Maduro would face very significant consequences if Guaid was harmed.
But many analysts question what concrete impact Trumps words will have on Guaids faltering campaign to force out Maduro.
Luis Vicente Len, a top Venezuelan pollster, said Guaid could certainly consider Trumps backing a victory.