US President Donald Trump is doubling down on support for Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido (MANDEL NGAN)

Washington (AFP) – President Donald Trump plans to ramp up the pressure on Venezuela’s embattled leader Nicolas Maduro in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, doubling down on US support for his challenger Juan Guaido.

“We stand with the Venezuelan people in their noble quest for freedom,” Trump is set to say, according to excerpts from his annual speech to Congress — where the opposition leader’s envoy to Washington was among the top guests.

Trump swiftly recognized Guaido after he proclaimed himself acting president of Venezuela last month, and has not ruled out a military intervention in the crisis-wracked country.

In contrast to Trump’s isolation on many international issues, his recognition of Guaido has been followed by major Latin American powers such as Brazil and Colombia with key European states including Britain, France, Germany and Spain following suit on Monday.

Venezuela also marks an unusually forceful intervention in another country by Trump, who has promised to pull US troops from Syria and Afghanistan and has held back on reprimanding US allies over human rights.

But Trump has appeared to relish the fight against President Nicolas Maduro, a leftist firebrand fond of criticizing US foreign policy who presides over a crumbling economy in which food and basic supplies are scarce and millions have fled to neighboring countries.

The United States has sought to squeeze Maduro both economically and diplomatically, imposing sanctions that target his inner circle and ruling that Venezuelan assets in the US banking system belong to the National Assembly, which Guaido’s opposition forces control.

The latest front has been aid, with Guaido warning the opposition not to block humanitarian assistance that he says is being stockpiled in Brazil, Colombia and an unnamed Colombian island.

Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, met Tuesday in Washington with Brazilian Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo and promised coordination on aid.

“We discussed mutual support for Venezuela’s Interim President Guaido, including logistics for providing humanitarian assistance for the Venezuelan people,” Bolton tweeted.

Many observers believe the key to Maduro’s survival is the military, whose leadership still backs the government despite US appeals.

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