Trump speaks with Venezuelan opposition leader

Trump speaks with Venezuelan opposition leader
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpCould Donald Trump and Boris Johnson be this generation's Reagan-Thatcher? Merkel backs Democratic congresswomen over Trump How China's currency manipulation cheats America on trade MORE on Wednesday applauded Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó for declaring himself the country’s interim president in an effort to oust President Nicolás Maduro.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that Trump had spoken with Guaidó “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.”

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Both leaders “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 U.S. and other nations last week recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s rightful leader, raising pressure on Maduro to step aside. Guaidó, 35, is the leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly.

In a tweet, Guaidó said that during the call Trump stressed his “complete backing” for their fight for democracy.

The Trump administration has moved quickly to prop up Guaidó’s interim government amid an intense effort by Maduro, whose election has been called illegitimate, to eliminate the threat to his power.

Anti-Maduro protests erupted last weekend in the capital of Caracas, and demonstrations are expected to resume on Saturday.

Maduro, who took over for the late President Hugo Chávez in 2013, has cut off diplomatic relations with the U.S. in response to their recognition of Guaidó and ordered American diplomats to return home.

U.S. officials on Monday announced new sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, an effort to cut off cash flow to Maduro’s government. Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves.

The State Department has allowed Guaidó access to Venezuela’s accounts at U.S. banks and has warned Americans not to travel to the South American country. It has also cautioned Maduro against arresting Guaidó, whose assets have been frozen and who has been banned from leaving Venezuela.

“My advice to bankers, brokers, traders, facilitators, and other businesses: don’t deal in gold, oil, or other Venezuelan commodities being stolen from the Venezuelan people by the Maduro mafia,” national security adviser John Bolton tweeted Wednesday. “We stand ready to continue to take action.”

Bolton appeared to be responding to a Bloomberg report that Maduro’s government has prepared roughly $840 million in gold bullion to be loaded onto a Russian jet.

Vice President Pence on Tuesday sought to bestow further legitimacy on Guaidó’s claim to power by hosting his top diplomat to the U.S. at the White House.

Amid growing international pressure, Maduro told a Russian media outlet that he is ready to negotiate with the opposition and is in contact with foreign governments to mediate the talks.

Venezuela was once one of the richest nations in Latin America. But for much of the last decade, it has grappled with a hyperinflation crisis that has caused shortages of food and medicine.

The Maduro government has long faced protests against political repression and human-rights abuses.

Updated at 12:08 p.m.