Trump Mulls Declaring Maduro Opposition Leader "Legitimate President" Of Venezuela

CNN has cited three unnamed administration sources to say President Trump is considering formally recognizing Venezuela's opposition leader as the legitimate president following Nicolas Maduro's contested inauguration last week for a second, six-year term as the country's leader. And further CNN reports the White House is also mulling a complete embargo of Venezuelan oil

It's a reference to the 35-year-old head of Venezuela’s opposition-run parliament, Juan Guaidó, who some argue is the rightful president of the country. As the president of the National Assembly of Venezuela Guaidó stirred controversy following Maduro's contested re-election by challenging Maduro's rule in saying he was the only "legitimate power" that the Venezuelan people look to. He said at a political rally last Friday, a day after Maduro's swearing in ceremony:

As President of the National Assembly, the only elected and legitimate power to represent the Venezuelan people, I have a responsibility to Venezuela: I stand by the Constitution...

Internationally pundits saw this as a significant challenge to Maduro's contested presidency as a direct, combative declaration that it remains illegal and invalid, as Reuters noted of the speech that "he was prepared to assume the country’s presidency on an interim basis and call elections."

CNN Espanol reports the following [rough translation]

Trump is weighing recognition of the president of the National Assembly of Venezuela, Juan Guaido, as the legitimate Venezuelan leader after Maduro, a socialist authoritarian who has presided over the political and economic crisis in Venezuela, took office last week for a second term.

And further, on the possibility of the risky move of sanctions (for US gas prices that is) on Venezuela's oil, CNN reports, citing administration sources and an NSC spokesman:

The Trump administration is also considering leveling its harshest set of sanctions yet against Venezuela's oil industry, weighing actions as severe as a full-fledged embargo of Venezuelan oil, two sources briefed on the matter said.

The Trump administration has previously weighed imposing sanctions against Venezuelan oil, but Trump ultimately rejected taking that additional step after an internal analysis showed it would lead to an increase in US gas prices. A full oil embargo would cause gas prices to rise by 15 cents a gallon for about six months, a former senior administration official said of the analysis.

"The United States is currently considering all diplomatic, political, and economic tools in its arsenal in response to the usurpation of power by the illegitimate Maduro regime," Marquis said when asked if the US was considering an oil embargo.

Dozens of other countries across Latin America and internationally have deemed the socialist dictator's re-election "illegitimate" — perhaps most notably Venezuela's southern neighbor Brazil, where its own newly elected right-wing leader, Jair Bolsonaro, dubbed by local media the "tropical Trump," has engaged in an escalating war of words with Maduro of late, and has given express support to Venezuela's political opposition while provoking Maduro with talk of opening Brazil to the presence of a US military base. 

Following the National Assembly president's declaration that Maduro's rule was essentially fraudulent and thus illegitimate, Guaidó was briefly arrested by Venezuelan secret police on Sunday, who had seized him as his family traveled to a political rally in a dramatic highway incident, video of which was quickly released online. He was released less than two hours later, his staff confirmed, in what Venezuela's communications minister, Jorge Rodríguez, bizarrely tried to claim was actually a staged arrest of sorts in order to elicit sympathy from the public and foreign countries. He told RT Spanish, “there was actually no detention. Several security service employees acted on their own and carried out an unlawful act at the Caracas highway.”

Meanwhile, the new Brazilian government has made clear it stands by Bolsonaro's desire to see Maduro ousted from power, with Brazil's now foreign minister Ernesto Araújo publicly stating in December that “all of the world’s countries must stop supporting him and come together to liberate Venezuela.”

It appears Trump could be feeling emboldened in his willingness to give formal US recognition of the political opposition based on the momentum of Bolsonaro's increasingly vocal and firm stance

A Washington Post op-ed this week summarized the results of Maduro's first term after he was just sworn in for a second last Thursday, describing “an implosion unprecedented in modern Latin American history: Though his country was not at war, its economy shrank by 50 percent.” 

The editorial described further, “What was once the region’s richest society was swept by epidemics of malnutrition, preventable diseases and violent crime. Three million people fled the country." 

And yet the Post finds, "Maduro, having orchestrated a fraudulent reelection, presses on with what the regime describes as a socialist revolution, with tutoring from Cuba and predatory loans from Russia and China.”