Florida Republicans Back Venezuela Opposition Leader

Some of the Republican members of Florida's congressional delegation are supporting Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who declared himself the nation’s interim president Wednesday.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was joined at the White House on Tuesday by Republican senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart. They exited their meeting with President Donald Trump urging him to apply pressure on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

"I think now is the moment and leadership can really, really make a difference for the people of Venezuela," DeSantis said.

Trump on Wednesday said he was recognizing Guaido as the interim president.

"I will continue to use the full weight of United States economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy," Trump said in a statement. "We encourage other Western Hemisphere governments to recognize National Assembly President Guaido as the Interim President of Venezuela, and we will work constructively with them in support of his efforts to restore constitutional legitimacy."

Scott says socialism in Venezuela has left it without food, gas and medicine, and notes that millions of people have left the country. Venezuelan opposition leaders called for nationwide protests Wednesday.

The once-wealthy oil nation is sliding into a deepening political and economic crisis.

"It's a national security issue for the United States. Right now, it's the largest refugee crisis in the history of this hemisphere," Diaz-Balart said. "You have Venezuelans, in what used to be one of the wealthiest countries on the planet, having to flee, and now they are frankly all throughout the hemisphere. And the solution is for Venezuela to recover its sovereignty and its democracy."

The Republicans' visit to the White House comes as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said Venezuelans have the "unwavering support" of the United States in their effort to restore democracy to their country.

In a video message released Tuesday, Pence called Maduro a "dictator with no legitimate claim to power."

The vice president says the U.S. joins other "freedom-loving" nations in recognizing the popularly elected National Assembly as the "last vestige of democracy" in Venezuela.

He says he supports the decision by National Assembly president and opposition leader Juan Guaido to declare Maduro a "usurper" and call for the creation of a transitional government.

Pence says the American people will be with Venezuelans until democracy is restored.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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