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Venezuela's opposition gets Trump boost at U.N., keeps pressuring Europe

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By Luc Cohen

NEWYORK (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday told a meeting of Latin American leaders who recognise Venezuelan opposition politician Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful leader that they were part of a “historic coalition,” trying to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

The opposition, which considers Maduro’s 2018 re-election fraudulent, is pushing the European Union to implement sanctions on officials from Maduro’s government who have assets stashed in EU states, and called on its Latin American partners to do more to pressure Maduro’s remaining allies, such as Cuba.

Trump’s meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York was part of the administration’s efforts to keep Venezuela “high on the international agenda,” a senior U.S. State Department official said on Monday, pushing back on perceptions that U.S. commitment to Venezuela was waning.

“The fact that the President of the United States has convened so many others to hear their opinion is truly fundamental in this fight for Venezuela to return to democracy,” Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie, who attended the meeting, told reporters on the way out.

Venezuela plunged into a deep political crisis in January when Guaido, the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, assumed a rival presidency, arguing Maduro was illegitimate.

Guaido has been recognised by more than 50 countries, including the United States and much of Latin America. The once-prosperous OPEC member is suffering a hyperinflationary economic collapse marked by chronic shortages of food and medicine.

During his speech to the General Assembly on Wednesday, Colombian President Ivan Duque accused Maduro of providing safe harbour to guerrilla groups. Two former commanders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) last month announced a return to arms, threatening a 2016 peace deal, in a video Colombian authorities said was filmed in Venezuela.

Maduro denies assisting the rebels, and calls Guaido a coup-mongering puppet of the United States. Maduro retains the support of allies such as Cuba, Russia and China.

In the meeting, Guaido’s chief diplomat Julio Borges called on other Latin American countries to put sanctions on Cuba over its support for Maduro, a request that earned no immediate commitment from those in attendance.

“We are always prepared to discuss ways to pressure those who support Maduro – especially Cuba – so that they stop being a force for bad in Venezuela,” Brazilian foreign minister Ernesto Araujo told reporters, who cautioned that the country had “rigid domestic legislation” that could complicate sanctions.

Several of the Latin American countries were expected to discuss Venezuela with their European counterparts later on Wednesday.

“We will persuade them to get much more deeply involved,” Faurie said.

The United States will be committing $36 million in aid to Venezuela as part of a United Nations program, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) administrator Mark Green said.

The U.N. has said it needs $223 million for its programs to serve 2.6 million vulnerable Venezuelans this year, but has raised only a fraction of that amount.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen, Humeyra Pamuk and Jeff Mason; editing by Grant McCool)

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