The United States on Saturday called on the world to “pick a side” on Venezuela and urged countries to financially disconnect from Nicolas Maduro’s government, while European powers signaled they were set to follow Washington in recognizing Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s rightful leader.
In heated back-and-forth exchanges at a United Nations Security Council meeting, the opposing camp led by Venezuela and Russia, which has invested heavily in Venezuela’s oil industry, accused Washington of attempting a coup, and lambasted Europeans’ demand that elections be called within eight days.
Guaido, who took the helm of the National Assembly on Jan. 5, proclaimed himself interim president on Wednesday. The United States, Canada and a string of Latin American countries recognized the young leader in quick succession. Maduro, who has led the oil-rich nation since 2013 and has the support of the armed forces, has refused to stand down.
But on Saturday Guaido, 35, gained support from a key military official. Venezuela’s defense attache to Washington, Colonel Jose Luis Silva, told Reuters that he has broken with the Maduro government and recognized Guaido as interim president.
Speaking at the U.N. meeting, called by the United States, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Maduro’s “socialist experiment” had caused the economy to collapse and reduced ordinary Venezuelans to rooting through dumpsters for food.
“Now it is time for every other nation to pick a side. … Either you stand with the forces of freedom, or you’re in league with Maduro and his mayhem,” Pompeo told the council. “We call on all members of the Security Council to support Venezuela’s democratic transition and interim President Guaido’s role.”
Pompeo also called on the international community to disconnect their financial systems from Maduro’s government. Washington has signaled it was ready to step up economic measures to try to drive Maduro from power, but on Saturday Pompeo declined to elaborate on any such plans.