President Lenin Moreno joined the growing ranks of world leaders Wednesday in recognizing Juan Gaidó as president of Venezuela. Gaidó, who heads the country’s popularly elected National Assembly, proclaimed himself interim president Wednesday morning before thousands of cheering supporters in Caracas.
In a short broadcast from Davos, Switzerland, where he is attending the World Economic Forum, Moreno called on President Nicolas Maduro to step down and demanded that a “free and fair presidential election” be held. “Ecuador stands firm in its solidarity with the Venezuelan people and supports their right for peaceful transition through the democratic process,” he said.
Among Latin American countries, Ecuador joins Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay in recognizing Gaidó’s claim to the presidency. Worldwide, the European Union, the United States and Canada also issued statements supporting Gaidó.
Following the U.S. recognition of Gaidó, Maduro gave Washington 72 hours to remove its diplomats from Caracas.
Maduro was sworn in for a second six-year term on January 10 but few countries recognized the legitimacy of his 2017 election victory. His government banned top opposition parties from the election and only a minority of Venezuelan voters turned out to vote.
In a speech from the balcony of the presidential palace, a defiant Maduro claimed he was elected in a free election and that Gaidó is a “fraud and imposter representing the interests of neo-colonialists.” Muduro also lashed out at Moreno, calling him a “nefarious xenophobe.”
Only Bolivia, Cuba, Mexico, Turkey, North Korea and Russia voiced support Wednesday for Maduro. Russia said it “remains steadfast” in its support for the government and warned other countries not to interfere in Venezuela. “We will bring military support to bear if there are any attempts to remove President Maduro from power,” a Russian Parliamentary leader said.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Caracas and other major cities Wednesday demanding Maduro’s resignation and calling for new elections. Human rights organizations reported that between 10 and 16 protesters were killed in clashes with police during the day.
Protest leaders say that demonstrations will continue.