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Venezuela’s Guaido Attends Trump’s State of Union Speech

Justin Sink and Jennifer Jacobs
Venezuela’s Guaido Attends Trump’s State of Union Speech

(Bloomberg) -- Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido attended President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday as a guest of the White House.

Guaido’s attendance provides a high-profile platform for the Venezuelan National Assembly leader as he seeks to revive support for his bid to oust President Nicolás Maduro.

Guaido’s visit to Washington capped a world tour in which he visited world leaders in Europe and Canada in hopes of rallying new momentum for his cause after an attempted uprising against Maduro failed last year. Though nearly 60 countries have recognized Guaido as the leader of Venezuela, he’s made little progress in actually unseating the deeply-entrenched regime.

But his invitation by the White House -- he sat in first lady Melania Trump’s box -- suggests that Trump still sees Guaido as the best chance to replace Maduro, despite skepticism he’s voiced in recent months to aides. Earlier, three people familiar with the matter said Guaido would attend.

In December, Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials held a meeting to re-examine the administration’s approach after its year-long push for a democratic transition in the South American nation, according to four people familiar with the matter.

Guiado has also cultivated close ties with top Republican lawmakers, and met with Senator Marco Rubio last weekend in Miami. At a rally, Guiado told supporters that he had a strategy and “the support of the world.”

“I’m glad he’s here,” Rubio said Tuesday night. “I think it continues to demonstrate that this administration’s commitment to a free Venezuela is as strong as it’s ever been.”

The White House is not thought to be considering a military option to encourage a transition in Venezuela. But officials have discussed new approaches including an attempt to partner with Russia, a Maduro ally, to ease the Venezuelan leader out of power, or raising pressure on Cuba, Maduro’s main sponsor.

During Pence’s meeting in the White House Situation Room, officials also briefly discussed -- but ultimately dismissed -- the idea of cracking down on India’s imports of Venezuelan oil, an important financial lifeline for Maduro’s regime.

Maduro has described American support for Guaido as a failure, and in an interview with the Washington Post last month called for direct talks with the U.S. Maduro called dialogue with the U.S. a “win-win” and suggested there could be an economic bonanza for U.S. oil companies if Trump were to lift the sanctions.

The Venezuelan president has said he wants to hold new elections for the National Assembly this year, in what is seen as an attempt to further erode Guaido’s power base and legitimacy. His supporters already blocked Guaido’s re-election as president of the assembly earlier this month.

--With assistance from Sebastian Boyd, Patricia Laya and Steven T. Dennis.

To contact the reporters on this story: Justin Sink in Washington at jsink1@bloomberg.net;Jennifer Jacobs in Washington at jjacobs68@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alex Wayne at awayne3@bloomberg.net, Justin Blum, Bill Faries

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