President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela faced the most direct challenge to his hold on power on Wednesday, when an opposition leader stood in the streets of the capital and declared himself the legitimate president, cheered on by thousands of supporters and a growing number of governments, including the Trump administration.
Mr. Maduro responded furiously by cutting diplomatic ties with the United States. He gave American diplomats 72 hours to leave the country, ordering them out with a derisive “be gone!” and accusing the Trump administration of plotting to overthrow him. The United States said it would ignore the deadline.
The fast-moving developments convulsed Venezuela, a once-prosperous country that has been devastated by years of political repression, economic mismanagement and corruption. But they also appeared to give new momentum to the opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, the 35-year-old National Assembly leader who stepped onto the national stage.Mr. Maduro immediately dismissed Mr. Guaidó’s claim to the presidency, calling it part of an American-led conspiracy to topple him. Demonstrating his continued grip on power, he signed an order expelling American diplomats on the balcony of the presidential palace.I am the only president of Venezuela,” Mr. Maduro said. “We do not want to return to the 20th century of gringo interventions and coups d’état.”
Mr. Maduro’s reaction came a few hours after Mr. Trump, in a White House statement, formally announced his recognition of Mr. Guaidó as the interim leader of Venezuela.“The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law,” Mr. Trump said.
A senior American official briefing reporters in Washington warned that if Mr. Maduro used force against opponents, the United States could impose new sanctions, and did not rule out the use of military force to stop him. It was not the first time the Trump administration has warned of a “military option” for Venezuela.
Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Paraguay, Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala and the Organization of American States have also recognized Mr. Guaidó as the country’s leader.