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Pompeo pledges $20 million in Venezuela aid at request of U.S.-backed opposition leader

Pompeo pledges aid to Venezuela

Washington — Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said the U.S. government is prepared to dispatch more than $20 million in humanitarian aid to Venezuela as soon as "logistically possible." America's top diplomat said his announcement was in direct response to requests made by National Assembly President Juan Guaidó, recognized by the Trump administration and other countries as Venezuela's interim president.

"The United States is ready to provide more than 20 million in humanitarian assistance to the people of Venezuela," Pompeo said Thursday during a special meeting held by the Organization of American States (OAS). "These funds are to help them cope with the severe food and medicine shortages, and other dire impacts of their country's political and economic crisis." 

Guaidó, who leads the only opposition-controlled body in Venezuela, declared himself interim president on Wednesday as large groups of demonstrators took to the streets to denounce the repressive government of Nicolás Maduro, who has consolidated power in the oil-rich nation by stacking the judiciary with his supporters, overhauling the legislative branch and maintaining a tight grip on the military.

President Trump then announced the U.S. recognizes Guaidó as the country's legitimate interim leader.

Pompeo said the Trump administration will stand "solidly behind" Guaidó and the national assembly, and support efforts to "restore democracy and respect for the rule of law." He added that the U.S. government will only recognize actions by Guaidó's office and will deem all orders by Maduro "illegitimate" and "invalid."

Maduro said Wednesday his government would break diplomatic relations with the U.S. From the balcony of the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, he told his ardent supporters that American diplomats had 72 hours to leave the country. 

But Guaidó, in a letter posted on Twitter the same day, asked foreign diplomatic personnel to remain in Venezuela. 

Late Wednesday night, Pompeo instructed America's diplomatic corps to stay in the country. 

During the OAS session, Pompeo also called on all member states to rebuke Maduro's "now-defunct" and "criminally-incompetent" government and recognize Guaidó as the legitimate leader in Venezuela. 

Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, France, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and several other nations joined the U.S. in recognizing Guaidó on Wednesday. Other countries refused to follow suit, and some came to the defense of Maduro's government, including the leftist governments in Cuba and Bolivia.  

Bolivian president Evo Morales expressed his support for Maduro, a staunch ally and fellow leftist firebrand. "The claws of imperialism again seek to fatally harm the democracy and self-determination of the peoples of South America," Morales wrote on Twitter, denouncing American meddling in Latin America. A spokesperson for the Mexican foreign ministry said diplomatic relations between Mexico and Venezuela had not changed "for the time being."  

Under Maduro — who replaced the late Hugo Chavez, another leader accused of authoritarian tendencies, in 2013 — Venezuela has been plagued by economic turmoil, skyrocketing inflation, food shortages, rampant crime and government corruption. The dire situation has prompted more than 2.3 million Venezuelans to flee the country since 2014, according to Human Rights Watch

Christina Ruffini contributed to this report