VP Pence to rally support for Venezuela's Guaido in Miami on Friday

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence listens as President Donald Trump hosts a roundtable with Hispanic pastors at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 25, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque     

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence plans to head to Miami on Friday, home to the country’s largest community of Venezuelan exiles, to rally support for the opposition ahead of Venezuelan protests against President Nicolas Maduro, a White House official said.

Pence, who has helped lead White House efforts to recognize self-declared president Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful leader, will be joined by Florida senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, and Governor Ron DeSantis, all fellow Republicans.

The White House has said Maduro lost legitimacy after an election last year condemned as rigged by the United States and many other governments around the world. Mass protests are planned in Venezuela at the weekend to keep up the pressure on Maduro.

Guaido, the newly-named leader of the country’s National Assembly, declared himself interim president last week after twice speaking by phone with Pence. The White House later imposed stiff sanctions aimed at curbing Maduro’s grip on Venezuelan oil revenues.

Pence will meet with Venezuelans who fled the country due to political persecution, the White House official said, and he will later give formal remarks.

“He will rally support for the Venezuelan people and reiterate the steadfast support from the United States in their fight for freedom,” the official said.

More than 3 million people have fled oil-rich Venezuela in recent years as its economy has imploded, and food and medicine have become scare. Maduro says that he is a victim of a U.S.-led “economic war” aimed at ousting him from power.

Guaido’s U.S. representative Carlos Vecchio, who has been meeting with White House officials to discuss taking control of Venezuelan assets from the Maduro government, is also expected to attend the Miami event, the White House said.

Reporting by Roberta Rampton, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien