Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó helped usher in a rare moment of unity at President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech.
Democrats and Republicans applauded Tuesday night as Guaidó stood as Trump called him the legitimate president of the South American nation.
Guaidó is the leader of the opposition-led National Assembly in Venezuela. He was a last-minute surprise invited guest of Trump’s.
The U.S. and more than 50 other nations believe the 2018 reelection of President Nicolás Maduro was illegitimate and say Guaidó should be considered president under the Venezuelan constitution. Trump in his speech called Maduro a “tyrant.”
Venezuela has been a top priority in Latin America for the Trump administration, which a year ago was the first among 60 governments to throw its weight behind Guaidó after he launched a campaign to oust Maduro from power.
U.S. officials have called Maduro a “dictator,” and hit the state-run Venezuelan oil firm PDVSA with sanctions and other financial measures designed to push out the socialist leader. However, Maduro remains in control, having faced down a coup attempt, a brief renewal of mass anti-government protests and U.S. sanctions.
Earlier, the White House said Ivan Simonovis, the former police chief in Caracas who was imprisoned in 2004 and held in captivity for nearly 15 years, also would be a guest. Simonovis was sentenced to 30 years in prison on what he considered trumped-up charges of ordering police to fire on pro-government demonstrators during a coup against then-President Hugo Chavez.
Simonovis, Venezuela’s most famous SWAT cop, escaped last year and was brought to the United States, His detention has been a rallying cry of the opposition that considered Maduro’s 2018 election a fraud and blamed his socialist policies for the nation’s crisis, which is driving mass migration and threatening the region’s stability.