Venezuela Congress declares President Maduro 'usurper' of democracy

Venezuela's opposition-run Congress on Tuesday formally declared President Nicolas Maduro a"usurper," whose actions would be considered null and void after he was sworn in last week for a disputed second term.
U.S. President Donald Trump is considering recognizing the leader of the Congress, Juan Guaido, as Venezuela's legitimate president, CNN reported, citing three unidentified sources.
Maduro was inaugurated on Jan. 10 under an avalanche of criticism that his leadership was illegitimate following a 2018 election widely viewed as fraudulent, with countries around the world disavowing his government.
The United States and many Latin American nations say Maduro has become a dictator whose failed state-led policies have plunged Venezuela into its worst ever economic crisis, with no recovery in sight. Maduro says that a U.S.-directed "economic war" is trying to force him from power.
"Today Congress declares that at this time there is no president of the republic," Jorge Millan, an opposition legislator, said in a speech. "Let's start the process to recover the constitutional order," he said.
Congress also approved a measure asking dozens of foreign governments to freeze bank accounts controlled by Maduro's government.
The measure calls on the United States, European Union and several Latin American governments to instruct regulatory agencies to "prohibit any movement of liquid assets by the Venezuelan state in local bank accounts."
The United States and EU have already imposed sanctions that limit the sale of Venezuelan government debt and freeze assets belonging to Maduro and a number of his top officials.
The pro-government Supreme Court, which has been in conflict with the legislature since the opposition took Congress over in 2016, has preemptively invalidated any laws passed by the body.
A White House spokesman, asked if further sanctions were in the pipeline, said the United States was considering "all diplomatic, political, and economic tools in its arsenal in response to the usurpation of power by the illegitimate Maduro regime."
In response to a request for comment on the CNN report, the spokesman said: "The United States has expressed its support for Juan Guaido, who as president of the democratically-elected National Assembly has courageously declared his constitutional authority to ... call for free and fair elections."
Last week, Guaido said he was willing to replace Maduro if he had the support of the military. Several government officials have said he should be arrested for treason and on Sunday he was briefly detained by intelligence agents.
In Washington, a person familiar with the matter said any U.S. decision to recognize Guaido would be complicated by the fact that he has not declared himself president or even stated an intention to do so.
Such a move by the Trump administration could also backfire if Maduro took action to prevent Guaido from being sworn in or used it as a pretext to detain him again.
Diosdado Cabello, president of the Constituent Assembly, a legislative superbody elected in 2017 that gives the ruling Socialist Party sweeping powers, said that the opposition in Congress were "the only ones trying to usurp power."
"They've spent 20 years trying to force us from government," Cabello told a news conference.
Lawmakers are also discussing a future amnesty for government officials and military officers who reject Maduro and help bring about a return to democracy. The measures are unlikely to be enforced in the short term.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2019.
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