Juan Guaido. Photo: Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump announced Wednesday that he will recognize Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, the president of the country's National Assembly, as its interim president in an attempt to loosen President Nicolas Maduro's grip on power.

The big picture: Trump called Venezuela's National Assembly "its only legitimate branch of government duly elected by the Venezuelan people" and bashed Maduro's rule as "illegitimate," a point echoed by national security adviser John Bolton earlier this month. In a speech Wednesday, Maduro responded by saying he will cut off diplomatic relations with the U.S. and that American diplomatic staff have 72 hours to leave Venezuela. He urged his country to defend the government against a coup orchestrated by the "imperialist" U.S.

  • A senior administration official told reporters that "in regard to sanctions, we’ve barely scratched the surface," and that "all options are on the table" if Maduro decides to respond with violence.
  • Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Costa Rica joined the U.S. Wednesday in recognizing Guaido as Venezuela's interim president.

Trump's full statement:

"Today, I am officially recognizing the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as the Interim President of Venezuela.  In its role as the only legitimate branch of government duly elected by the Venezuelan people, the National Assembly invoked the country’s constitution to declare Nicolas Maduro illegitimate, and the office of the presidency therefore vacant.  The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law.
I will continue to use the full weight of United States economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy.  We encourage other Western Hemisphere governments to recognize National Assembly President Guaido as the Interim President of Venezuela, and we will work constructively with them in support of his efforts to restore constitutional legitimacy.  We continue to hold the illegitimate Maduro regime directly responsible for any threats it may pose to the safety of the Venezuelan people.  As Interim President Guaido noted yesterday: 'Violence is the usurper’s weapon; we only have one clear action: to remain united and firm for a democratic and free Venezuela.'"

Go deeper: Trump seizes chance to ratchet up pressure on Venezuela's Maduro

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