Venezuela’s opposition-controlled but toothless National Assembly declared Nicolas Maduro’s presidency illegitimate on Saturday, calling on the military to support efforts to “restore democracy.”
The United States, which has sanctioned Venezuelan officials and entities, hailed the legislature as “the only legitimate and last remaining democratically elected institution” in the country.
“We reaffirm the illegitimacy of Nicolas Maduro,” the assembly’s new president Juan Guaido said after being sworn in at the start of a new legislative session.
“As of January 10, he will be usurping the presidency and consequently this National Assembly is the only legitimate representative of the people.”
Maduro, who has presided over a virtual collapse of the economy in the once-rich OPEC member state, is set to be sworn in on Thursday for a second six-year term after elections widely condemned by the international community.
The ballot, on May 20, was boycotted by most of the opposition.
On Friday, foreign ministers from 12 Latin American countries and Canada announced in Lima that their governments would not recognize Maduro as president if he attempts to remain in office and urged him to turn over power to the National Assembly.
The Maduro government accused the so-called Lima Group of “encouraging a coup d’etat” on instructions from Washington. Mexico, which is a member of the group, withheld its support for the statement.
Guaido, in a speech attended by lawmakers and members of the diplomatic corps, declared that the military’s chain of command had been “broken or usurped,” but called on the armed forces to support efforts “to restore democracy.”
He committed to “generate conditions for a government of transition and to call free elections.”
The US State Department said it “celebrates” the assembly officials’ swearing-in, a ceremony attended by charge d’affaires James Story.
“The National Assembly should inspire hope in the Venezuelan people for a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic future, even as the corrupt and authoritarian Maduro regime and its allies seek to deny Venezuelans that right,” State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said in a statement.