Pence urges Venezuelans to back opposition leader ahead of anti-government protests

Pence urges Venezuelans to back opposition leader ahead of anti-government protests
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Vice President Pence on Tuesday encouraged Venezuelans to "make your voices heard" at anti-government protests organized by Juan Guaidó, the head of Venezuela's National Assembly and the leader of the opposition to President Nicolás Maduro.

In a video message delivered in English with Spanish subtitles, Pence decried Maduro as "a dictator with no legitimate claim to power" who has "never won the presidency in a free and fair election."

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"As such, the United States supports the courageous decision by Juan Guaidó, the president of National Assembly, to assert that body’s constitutional powers, declare Maduro a usurper and call for the establishment of a transitional government," Pence said in a message he said was on behalf of President TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff urges GOP colleagues to share private concerns about Trump publicly US-China trade talks draw criticism for lack of women in pictures Overnight Defense: Trump to leave 200 troops in Syria | Trump, Kim plan one-on-one meeting | Pentagon asks DHS to justify moving funds for border wall MORE and the American people.

Venezuela's opposition is expected to hold mass protests on Tuesday, the anniversary of a coup d'état that overthrew dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez in 1958.

"As you make your voices heard tomorrow, on behalf of the American people we say to all the good people of Venezuela: estamos con ustedes. We are with you," Pence said.

The Trump administration has taken an active role in opposing Maduro, with Pence calling both his reelection last year and his inauguration earlier this month a "sham." The administration has also imposed sanctions on those close to Maduro in an effort to increase pressure.

Pence stopped short of calling Guaidó the legitimate president of Venezuela, as some U.S. allies in the region and American politicians have done.

In a speech in the Senate last week, Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioInviting Kim Jong Un to Washington Venezuela closes border with Brazil The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump escalates fight with NY Times MORE (R-Fla.) called on the administration to recognize Guaidó as Venezuela’s leader.

"And what I have come to the floor to ask is that the Administration, hopefully in concert with Brazil, Canada, and Colombia, and other countries around the world simply recognize what the Venezuelan Constitution clearly lays out, there is no president in Venezuela right now that has been democratically elected and via their own Constitution, the current president of Venezuela, pending a new election is Juan Guaidó the President of the National Assembly," Rubio said.

Venezuela is in the midst of a worsening humanitarian and economic crisis, with widespread reports of citizens enduring poverty and hunger.

A small group of soldiers Monday attempted an uprising against Maduro, which was quickly quelled.

Despite calls for change from the international community, Maduro's opponents both inside and outside Venezuela have struggled to find a credible leader to coalesce around.

Guaidó, a 35-year-old former engineer, has emerged as a potential candidate. As leader of the National Assembly, Guaidó has strong legal grounds to claim the presidency that Maduro holds. The opposition leader was detained earlier this month by Maduro's intelligence service, but was later released.

Rafael Bernal contributed to this post, which was updated at 11:34 a.m.