Brazil's Bolsonaro pledges action to 'restore democracy' in Venezuela

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro said on Thursday he would do all he could to “to re-establish order and democracy” in Venezuela, while his foreign minister met with Venezuelan opposition leaders.

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The right-wing government of Bolsonaro on Saturday said it recognized Juan Guaido, a Venezuelan opposition leader who is head of the congress, as the rightful president of Venezuela - even though Guaido himself has not proclaimed himself president.

Socialist President Nicolas Maduro began a new term last week under a cloud of international criticism by governments around the world, who have described him as an illegitimate leader whose policies have plunged Venezuela into its worst ever economic crisis.

“We will continue doing everything possible to re-establish order, democracy and freedom there,” Bolsonaro said in a video, in which he stood next to the head of the opposition-appointed Supreme Court in exile, Miguel Angel Martin.

“We asked the people of Venezuela to resist and have faith, because I believe a solution is coming soon,” Bolsonaro said in the video issued by his office.

Guaido, a lawmaker from the hard-line Popular Will opposition party, said last week he was prepared to assume the presidency on an interim basis and call elections, but would only do so with support of the armed forces.

Since taking office Jan. 1, Bolsonaro has stepped up criticism of Maduro’s government, the United States’ biggest ideological foe in Latin America.

Also at the meeting was a representative for Luis Almagro, the secretary general of the Organization of American States who has said Venezuela should be suspended from the regional forum.

Bolsonaro’s foreign minister Ernesto Araujo spent the morning huddled with a group of Venezuelan opposition leaders, led by the exiled former mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, to analyze the situation and Guaido’s readiness to take over as acting president, a Brazilian foreign ministry statement said.

Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The meeting also discussed ideas for “concrete action” to re-establish democracy in Venezuela, the statement said, without giving further details.

The opposition leaders said 300,000 people were starving and more than 11,000 newborn babies were dying each year due to the lack of medicine in what they called a “silent genocide perpetrated by the Maduro dictatorship,” the statement said.

Maduro, who says that a U.S.-directed “economic war” is trying to force him from power, has so far had consistent support from the armed forces at home.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien