By Susan Shand
23 January, 2019

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has broken diplomatic relations with the United States. He has given American diplomats 72 hours to leave the country.

The action came following a statement released by U.S. President Donald Trump, in which he recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela's interim president.

Maduro told a crowd of supporters at the presidential palace Wednesday: "Before the people and nations of the world, and as constitutional president.....I've decided to break diplomatic and political relations with the imperialist U.S. government."

FILE - Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, center, stands with his Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez before giving his annual address Jan. 14, 2019
FILE - Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, center, stands with his Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez before giving his annual address Jan. 14, 2019

Opposition leader claims presidency

Guaido declared himself interim president Wednesday before tens of thousands of cheering anti-government demonstrators in Caracas.

"Today, January 23, 2019, I swear to formally assume the powers of the national executive as president in charge of Venezuela," Guaido told the crowd.

Guaido is the leader of the opposition-controlled Venezuelan National Assembly. He said under Venezuela's constitution, he would assume power until new elections are called.

Guaido declared himself president just two weeks after Maduro began his second six-year term. Many Venezuelans believed the election should not be recognized because Maduro banned his opponents from running against him.

The United States immediately recognized Guaido as interim president and said it would push for the restoration of democracy.

In a statement, Trump said, "The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law." Trump ruled out military actions against the Maduro government but added, "All options are on the table."

Throughout the day thousands of Venezuelan protesters filled the streets of Caracas to demand President Maduro leave office. The country is suffering from a severe economic crisis.

Large crowds waved flags and called "Get out Maduro" in the country's largest demonstration since 2017.

"Venezuela is reborn on the streets today, searching for freedom and democracy," Guaido said on Twitter.

Pro-government demonstrators dressed in red in support of Maduro were also marching in the capital. They shouted "traitors" at anti-government protestors when the two sides faced each other on the street.

The demonstration comes after a week that saw a small military revolt, fires set during protests in poor neighborhoods and the brief arrest of Guaido. He was pulled from a car just over a week ago by intelligence agents, but was quickly released after international criticism.

Protest seen as test for opposition

The protest is seen as a test of Guaido's ability to unite Venezuela's opposition parties. He and his followers have appealed to the military and the poor to move their loyalties away from President Maduro's socialist government. The protest takes place on a historic date for Venezuelans — the anniversary of the 1958 coup that removed military dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez.

In the days leading to Wednesday's protest, the 35-year-old opposition leader traveled around Caracas to attend outdoor meetings. He told the crowds that Maduro must go if democracy will return to Venezuela.

Speaking on Monday from the top of a college building, Guaido cried: "We are tired of this disaster. We know this isn't a fight of a single day but one that requires lots of resistance."

A crowd of students answered with shouts of "Freedom!" and "Get out, Maduro!"

Maduro does not come from the military like former president Hugo Chavez. But he has tried to control the military by placing generals in important jobs, such as the head of the country's oil company. Maduro has also appeared in uniform at a military meeting with Gen. Vladimir Padrino Lopez, the defense minister.

Guaido has been sending his message to Venezuela's military, which holds a lot of power in Venezuelan politics.

On Monday, a small military revolt took place, but the government quickly ended it. Venezuelans showed their support for the revolt by protesting in the streets until the police pushed them back.

Retired Maj. Gen. Cliver Alcala is a former aide to Chavez and now in exile. He said the opposition has found sympathy with the military's lower ranks that are suffering from the same financial problems as regular Venezuelans.

Asked about his former troops, Alcala said, "hunger is the only thing that can devour fear of the government."

I'm Susan Shand.

The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

interim - adj. used or accepted for a limited time

imperialist - n. one who believes in a policy or practice by which a country increases its power by gaining control over other areas of the world

assume - v. to take over

restoration - n. to put back to a previous state

courageously - adv. without fear

traitor n. one who betrays his country

coup - n. to overthrow a government

devour v. to completely take over

regular n. normal or usual