US, S. American nations recognize Maduro opponent as interim leader

Major regional players Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Peru and Argentina all gave their backing to Juan Guaido's self-proclamation as Venezuela's acting president (AFP Photo/Federico PARRA)

Davos (Switzerland) (AFP) - The US, Canada and several major South American nations recognized the head of Venezuela's opposition-controlled legislature as the country's interim leader on Wednesday, leaving President Nicolas Maduro increasingly isolated.

Major regional players Brazil, Colombia, Chile and Peru all gave their backing to Juan Guaido's self-proclamation as Venezuela's acting president, which he made in front of crowd of tens of thousands of supporters in Caracas.

Mexico, however, stood apart, saying it recognizes "the authorities elected in accordance with the Venezuelan constitution," seen as a lukewarm nod to Maduro.

The avalanche of support for Guaido dramatically raised the stakes in Venezuela, an oil-rich nation has become deeply impoverished under Maduro.

Maduro has clung to power through the support of the Venezuelan military, and he is an ally of Russia, which last month sent two nuclear-capable bombers to the country to participate in a military drill.

The US said Wednesday it stood ready to us "all options" if Maduro tries to quash the opposition, in what was an implied threat of military force.

US President Donald Trump said in Guaido's National Assembly was "the only legitimate branch of government duly elected by the Venezuelan people."

Maduro responded by saying he was cutting off diplomatic ties with the United States, as his riot police clashed with opposition supporters in Caracas.

"Out! Leave Venezuela. Here we have dignity, damn it," Maduro said, giving US diplomats 72 hours to depart.

- Support from Davos -

Tweeting from the Swiss ski resort of Davos, where he and other leaders were attending the World Economic Forum, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said: "Brazil recognizes Mr Juan Guaido as Venezuela's interim president."

He added that "Brazil will support politically and economically the process of transition so that democracy and social peace return to Venezuela."

Bolsonaro, a far-right former paratrooper who has set about forging close ties with Trump's administration since taking power at the beginning of January, has repeatedly vowed to challenge Maduro in any way he can.

He initially said he was open to discussing Brazil hosting a US military base, before changing his mind when the idea sparked objections from his military brass.

Colombian President Ivan Duque, another US ally also at Davos, told reporters his country was behind Guaido and will "accompany this process of transition to democracy so that the Venezuelan people free themselves of their dictatorship."

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland expressed her country's "full support" for Guaido, adding: "It's an important day for Venezuela and I'm grateful for the solidarity of the Lima Group in speaking out on this."

The Lima Group, which is made up of 14 countries in the Americas, has taken an increasingly strident stance against Maduro, whom it sees as anti-democratic.

The United States is not a member but supports the group.