January 22, 2019 / 3:35 PM / 25 days ago

'Hola, I'm Mike Pence': U.S. VP delivers message of support to Venezuelans

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence issued a video message of support to Venezuelans on Tuesday to encourage those who are protesting against President Nicolas Maduro and underline U.S. backing for opposition leader Juan Guaido.

Venezuela’s opposition on Wednesday plans to hold marches nationwide as part of an annual event that marks the fall of a military government in 1958. Government critics are increasingly comparing Maduro to dictator Marcos Perez, who was pushed from power that year.

In a taped video message in English bit.ly/2sGkcvy with a few Spanish words and phrases mixed in, Pence, who has lashed out at Maduro before, declared him a "dictator" who has no rightful claim to power.

“On behalf of President Donald Trump and all the American people, let me express the unwavering support of the United States as you, the people of Venezuela, raise your voices in a call for freedom,” Pence said after offering a greeting of “hola,” which means “hello” in Spanish.

“Nicolas Maduro is a dictator with no legitimate claim to power. He has never won the presidency in a free and fair election, and has maintained his grip of power by imprisoning anyone who dares to oppose him.”

Pence declared U.S. support again for Guaido, with whom he spoke by phone earlier this month, and the National Assembly, which he leads, as the “last vestige of democracy.” Pence said Washington supported Guaido’s decision to assert the body’s powers, declare Maduro a “usurper” and push for a transitional government to be established.

“As you make your voices heard tomorrow, on behalf of the American people, we say to all the good people of Venezuela: estamos con ustedes,” Pence said, following up with the translation in English: “We are with you, we stand with you, and we will stay with you until democracy is restored and you reclaim your birthright of libertad.”

Maduro was inaugurated on Jan. 10 amid worldwide criticism that his leadership was illegitimate after a 2018 election that was widely viewed as fraudulent.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks during the Missile Defense Review announcement at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

In response to Pence’s comments, Maduro accused him of trying to force a coup and said he had ordered a revision of Venezuela’s diplomatic relations with the United States.

“Never before has a high-level official said that the opposition should overthrow the government,” Maduro told a news conference. The U.S. embassy in Caracas did not respond to a request to comment.

Pence has largely taken the lead within the Trump administration in condemning Maduro. He called the inauguration a sham and made clear the United States did not recognize the election result.

Reporting by Jeff Mason, additional reporting by Brian Ellsworth and Angus Berwick in Caracas; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Lisa Shumaker

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