Pompeo vows support for Venezuela's Guaido ahead of march

Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido addresses a university in Caracas in June 2019 (AFP Photo/Federico PARRA)

Washington (AFP) - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo promised "unwavering" support Tuesday to Venezuela's embattled opposition leader Juan Guaido as he prepares a new rally aimed at deposing President Nicolas Maduro.

Pompeo expressed "the United States' unwavering support for Guaido, the National Assembly and the Venezuelan people as they seek to regain their country's freedom and prosperity," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.

Pompeo telephoned Guaido, who is head of the opposition-led National Assembly, ahead of Venezuela's July 5 Independence Day holiday on Friday, when the opposition chief is planning a fresh rally.

The rally follows the death in custody on June 29 of Venezuelan naval captain Rafael Acosta Arevalo, who had been arrested a week earlier by military counter-intelligence agents and accused of plotting against the government.

His lawyer said he last saw Acosta the day before his death, when he was brought into a military court in a wheelchair, incapable of speaking and bearing signs of torture.

A sergeant and a lieutenant were arrested on Monday for the murder, but the US charge d'affaires in Venezuela, Jimmy Story, told reporters he doubted they had acted on their own.

"Are two young members of the DGCIM (Venezuelan directorate of military intelligence) the ones who took the decision in their own hands? I very much doubt it," Story told reporters.

"All those in the chain of command are responsible for what happened," he said.

Story said the international community needed to come together "to pressure Maduro to leave," insisting the regime had no interest in finding a constitutional solution to the crisis.

"This is not a question of ideology, it's not left or right -- it's a moral question of what's right or wrong," he said.

The United States along with major Latin American powers in January declared Maduro to be illegitimate and recognized Guaido as interim leader after last year's election was widely criticized for irregularities.

But Maduro has withstood a US-led pressure campaign that includes sanctions on Venezuela's crucial oil exports, and still enjoys support from Russia, China and Cuba.

Guaido earlier tried to oust Maduro through a troop mutiny on April 30, but the effort fizzled out within hours with the military leadership ultimately remaining loyal to Maduro.

The leftist president presides over a crumbling economy that has sent millions fleeing out of Venezuela, with basic goods and medicine out of reach for many.