Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president on Wednesday, winning the backing of Washington and many Latin American nations and prompting socialist Nicolas Maduro, who has led the nation since 2013, to break relations with the US, Reuters reports.
At a rally in the east of the capital Caracas that drew hundreds of thousands of people, Guaido accused Maduro of usurping power, and promised to create a transitional government that would help the country escape its hyperinflationary economic collapse.
“I swear to assume all the powers of the presidency to secure an end to the usurpation,” 35-year old Guaido, the head of the opposition-run congress, told an exuberant crowd.
US President Donald Trump formally recognized Guaido shortly after his announcement and praised his plan to hold elections.
That was swiftly followed by similar statements from Canada and a slew of right-leaning Latin American governments, including Venezuela’s neighbors Brazil and Colombia.
Guaido’s declaration takes Venezuela into uncharted territory, with the possibility of the opposition now running a parallel government recognized abroad as legitimate but without control over state functions, Reuters noted.
In a televised broadcast from the presidential palace, Maduro accused the opposition of seeking to stage a coup with the support of the US, which he said was seeking to govern Venezuela from Washington.
“We’ve had enough interventionism, here we have dignity, damn it! Here is a people willing to defend this land,” said Maduro, flanked by top Socialist Party leaders.
Any change of government will rest on a shift in allegiance within the armed forces. So far, they have stood by Maduro through two waves of street protests and a steady dismantling of democratic institutions.
Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said on Wednesday that the armed forces did not recognize a self-proclaimed president “imposed by shadowy interests … outside the law.”
The military would guarantee national sovereignty, he said on Twitter.
Maduro took power in 2013 after his mentor Hugo Chavez died. He started a second term on Jan. 10, following a widely-boycotted election last year that many foreign governments described as a sham.
On Caracas’ streets on Wednesday, protesters wielding rocks and clubs clashed with police, calling for Maduro to step down.
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