Trump, Venezuelan Opposition Leader Guaidó to Meet Wednesday

WASHINGTON (AP) -
Leader of Venezuela’s political opposition Juan Guaido in Brussels, in Jan., 2020. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó is getting a long-sought meeting with President Donald Trump on Wednesday and another show of U.S. support for the Venezuelan people, the White House said.

Guaidó was a guest Tuesday night at Trump’s State of the Union address. Lawmakers applauded as Trump introduced Guaidó as Venezuela’s “true and legitimate” leader and called President Nicolas Maduro a “tyrant.”

The White House said Guaido’s visit is an “opportunity to reaffirm the commitment of the United States to the people of Venezuela.” The leaders will discuss how the U.S. can work with Guaidó to “expedite a democratic transition in Venezuela that will end the ongoing crisis,” the White House said.

Vice President Mike Pence and Guaido met at the Capitol on Wednesday before Pence departed on a trip to Pennsylvania. Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, both Florida Republicans, attended.

The U.S. and nearly 60 other governments say Maduro’s 2018 election was illegitimate and that Guaidó, as leader of the country’s National Assembly, should be named interim president under the Venezuelan constitution. These countries blame Maduro’s socialist policies for a political and economic crisis threatening regional stability.

Maduro, however, remains in control, having faced down a failed military uprising, a brief renewal of mass anti-government protests, and sanctions and other efforts by the U.S. to force him to leave office.

“Mr. President, please take this message back to your homeland,” Trump said to Guaidó during the speech. “All Americans are united with the Venezuelan people in their righteous struggle for freedom.”

The White House said the U.S. will continue to work with other countries in the region to “confront the illegitimate dictatorship in Venezuela” and ensure a “democratic and prosperous” future for the Venezuelan people.

Robert O’Brien, the U.S. national security adviser, called on Russia, China and Cuba to end their support for Maduro. O’Brien said Maduro lacks his people’s support and is “exercising tyranny” over them.

“We call on the Chinese, the Russians and the Cubans to knock it off and to get out of Venezuela and let the Venezuelans control their own destiny,” O’Brien told a group of ambassadors to the U.S. on Wednesday.

Guaidó’s attendance at Tuesday’s speech came as a surprise as he has sought for some time to secure a meeting with Trump, his most important international ally.

Guaidó visited Miami on Saturday, rounding out a two-week world tour that took him first to Colombia, then across Europe and Canada, where he sought more international help to oust Maduro.

Venezuela has been a top priority in Latin America for the Trump administration, which a year ago was the first among a coalition of governments to recognize Guaidó as president.