Trump phones Venezuelan opposition leader to lend support amid growing unrest

Deirdre Shesgreen

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump tried to strengthen the hand of Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido on Wednesday amid an intense power struggle and deadly political violence in that country. 

Trump spoke with Guaido by phone Wednesday to reaffirm his support for the 35-year-old leader's push to oust embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Trump has recognized Guadio as the interim president of Venezuela and blasted Maduro's regime as corrupt and illegitimate. 

“President Donald J. Trump spoke today with Venezuelan Interim President Juan Guaido to congratulate him on his historic assumption of the presidency and to reinforce President Trump’s strong support for Venezuela’s fight to regain its democracy," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement Wednesday. 

"They agreed to maintain regular communication to support Venezuela’s path back to stability, and to rebuild the bilateral relationship between the United States and Venezuela,” Sanders said. 

The two men also discussed the anti-Maduro protests set to take place Wednesday and Saturday. Similar demonstrations have turned deadly in recent days. The United Nations says at least 20 people have been killed, allegedly shot by the Maduro-controlled security officers or other pro-government forces. The UN's human rights chief Michelle Bachelet warned on Friday that the situation in Venezuela could “rapidly spiral out of control with catastrophic consequences."

"Maduro willing to negotiate with opposition in Venezuela following U.S. sanctions and the cutting off of oil revenues," Trump tweeted Wednesday morning, referring to his administration's move on Monday to sanction Venezuela's state-owned oil company.

"Guaido is being targeted by Venezuelan Supreme Court. Massive protest expected today. Americans should not travel to Venezuela until further notice," the president said.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump phones Venezuelan opposition leader to lend support amid growing unrest