Washington D.C., Feb 5, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- President Donald Trump used the State of the Union address on Tuesday evening to highlight U.S. commitment to restoring democracy in Venezuela, inviting the opposition leader to attend as a guest of honor.
Juan Guaidó, leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly and recognized by the U.S. as the interim president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, watched the speech from the House Gallery on Tuesday.
“Mr. President, please take this message back to your homeland,” Trump told Guaidó. “All Americans are united with the Venezuelan people in their righteous struggle for freedom! Socialism destroys nations. But always remember, freedom unifies the soul.”
Venezuela has been torn by violence, upheaval, widespread hunger and hyperinflation under the Nicolas Maduro regime. According to the Organization of American States (OAS), the number of Venezuelans fleeing the country is expected to total 6 million by the end of the year.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, praised the move.
“By inviting Interim President Juan Guaidó and the Special Envoy for Intelligence and Law Enforcement Mr. Iván Simonovis, one of Venezuela’s longest held political prisoners of the Maduro narco-dictatorship, the Trump Administration has sent a clear message that the U.S. will continue to stand with the Venezuelan people as they work towards a free and democratic Venezuela,” Rubio said in a statement released shortly following the speech Tuesday.
“I think the message tonight was very clear, and that is the freedom and the wellbeing of the people of Venezuela still remains a top and important priority for this president,” Rubio said in a video statement.
“I have all the confidence in the world that the day is coming when Venezuela will be free and democratic again.”
Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), meanwhile, said that condemning Maduro was a “complex” issue and that she “is absolutely concerned with the humanitarian crises that's happening.”
“I think it's important that any solution we have centers the Venezuelan people and centers the democracy of the Venezuelan people first. I am very concerned about U.S. interventionism in Venezuela, and I oppose it,” the freshman congresswoman said.
Maduro was inaugurated for a second term as president of Venezuela last year following contested 2018 elections, but the bishops’ conference has said his election was invalid.
Guaidó declared himself the interim president of the country in January of 2019, and promised a transitional government and free elections. He was received by the Holy See on a visit in February, where the Vatican expressed its “grave concern” for a “just and peaceful solution” to the country’s crisis.
The country’s bishops’ conference has repeatedly called for free and fair elections for new leadership, a call backed by the Holy See.
Cardinal Jorge Liberato Urosa Savino, the archbishop-emeritus of Caracas, has blamed the regime for “a terrible ruin which is growing more and more” in the country, and that if the Maduro administration “truly had love for Venezuela they would have already left power.”
Guaidó was a guest at the White House on Wednesday as well, with discussion expected on a democratic transition of power in the country.