Venezuelans woke up Thursday morning with two men claiming to be their nation’s rightful leader: sitting President Nicolás Maduro and upstart opposition leader Juan Guaidó, head of Venezuela’s National Assembly.
The day before, Guaidó took the oath of office in front of massive crowds that filled the streets of Caracas and declared himself interim president, pledging to hold general elections. The U.S. immediately declared its support for Guaidó and has called on other nations to recognize him as the country’s leader.
Maduro has not ceded power. He tweeted that the country was facing “extreme imperial insolence” that “seeks to impose a puppet and servile government” and told U.S. diplomatic personnel to leave within 72 hours. “Venezuela Is Respected! #YankeeGoHome,” he wrote.
On Thursday, Maduro ordered all of Venezuela’s diplomats in the U.S. to go home and said the country’s embassy and consulates in the U.S. will close, The Associated Press reports. The day before, Maduro declared that he was breaking diplomatic ties with Washington.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that because the U.S. does not consider the Maduro regime legitimate, “We therefore consider all of its declarations and actions illegitimate and invalid.”
Maduro said U.S. is foolish to defy his order, according to the AP.
Pompeo announced that the U.S. will give Venezuela more than $20 million in humanitarian aid. Speaking Thursday at a special meeting at the Organization of American States in Washington, D.C., Pompeo said the funds are to help Venezuelans cope with severe food and medicine shortages and other impacts of the country’s political and economic crisis.
Until recently, few Venezuelans even knew who Guaidó was — but now the 35-year-old is leading a high-stakes charge to end the Maduro regime. Pompeo affirmed U.S. support for Guaidó and called on Venezuela’s security forces to ensure his safety.
Maduro needs support of the army’s high command if he is to remain president – and so far, it appears that he has it.
Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López appeared on state-run television Thursday, surrounded by the military’s top brass, and called Maduro the “legitimate president.” He accused the opposition of waging a coup, Reuters reports, and said the U.S. and the other countries were carrying out an economic war against Venezuela.
In a televised address from the presidential palace on Wednesday, Maduro also accused Guaidó and Washington of staging a coup.