Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said Wednesday he’s severing diplomatic ties with the U.S. and giving American diplomats 72 hours to leave the country, the Associated Press reports. “Before the people and nations of the world, and as constitutional president.....I’ve decided to break diplomatic and political relations with the imperialist U.S. government,” Maduro said. The move comes just hours after President Trump threw his support behind Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who swore himself in as interim president Wednesday amid growing protests against Maduro. “The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law,” Trump said in a statement cited by The New York Times. The Times notes that the vast majority of Venezuela’s opposition party backs Guaidó, who has been calling in recent days for the military to turn on Maduro.
The opposition calls Maduro a dictator and a usurper, claiming that his most recent electoral win was rigged; their ranks have been growing steadily since massive hyperinflation has led to starvation and severe poverty. “We are forced to be optimistic because the risk we face is staring us in the face,” Luz Mely Reyes, the manager of the independent news site Efecto Cocuyo, told the Times. “Those of us who are democrats know that if this time we fall short, with deep regret, we’ll have to bury what little remains of democracy in Venezuela.”