The Latest: Venezuela opposition leader backs US sanctions

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The latest on the political crisis in Venezuela (all times local):

11:55 a.m.

The Venezuelan opposition leader who has declared himself the country’s rightful president says U.S. sanctions against the state-owned oil company fall in line with requests lawmakers have made to “protect” the nation’s assets abroad.

Juan Guaido said in an interview with CNN in Spanish on Monday evening that Venezuela’s opposition-controlled congress approved a measure in January asking foreign nations to ensure the country’s assets aren’t “looted” by President Nicolas Maduro.

Guaido is the leader of the National Assembly, which is the only branch of Venezuela’s government recognized by the U.S. and other nations.

Guaido said the measure’s only purpose is to ensure that Maduro’s government “doesn’t continue robbing the people of Venezuela.”

The United States announced sanctions against Petroleos de Venezuela SA earlier Monday, cutting off a vital source of income for the distressed nation.


11:35 p.m.

The Venezuelan opposition leader challenging Nicolas Maduro’s claim to the presidency says he has spoken with U.S. President Donald Trump.

In an interview Monday night with CNN in Spanish, Juan Guaido confirmed that he had spoken with Trump “and other presidents in the region.”

He didn’t provide any details on when the conversations took place, nor did he reveal what specifically was discussed. He said only that all his talks with heads of state have focused on resolving Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis and restoring democracy.

Guaido rejected accusations from Maduro and others that the U.S. is staging a coup, saying Venezuelan citizens are simply exercising their constitutional rights.

Guaido is the head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly and proclaimed himself Venezuela’s interim president before thousands of supporters last week. He has been recognized as the nation’s rightful leader by two dozen nations that contend Maduro’s re-election last May was not legitimate because his strongest opponents were barred from running.


11:05 p.m.

Colombia’s foreign minister says his government doesn’t know why U.S. national security adviser John Bolton had “5,000 troops to Colombia” written on a notepad he held during a news conference announcing new Venezuela sanctions.

In a brief address Monday evening, Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes said Colombia does not know the “importance and reason” for Bolton’s note.

He added that Colombia will continue “acting politically and diplomatically” so that democratic order is restored in Venezuela and new elections are held.

Colombia shares a 1,370-mile (2,200-kilometer) border with Venezuela and has joined U.S. President Donald Trump in backing Venezuelan congress leader Juan Guaido, who has proclaimed himself interim president in the opposition’s confrontation with President Nicolas Maduro.

When asked to explain the words in Bolton’s notepad, the White House said in an email that “as the President has said, all options are on the table.”


8:15 p.m.

The Mexican government says it disagrees with a map displayed by the White House that shows Mexico among those countries that support Venezuela’s embattled president, Nicolas Maduro.

National security adviser John Bolton held a press briefing Monday with a map that showed in red the countries supporting Maduro and in blue those nations supporting the Venezuelan congress leader Juan Guaido, who has declared himself Venezuela’s interim president.

Mexico’s ambassador to the U.S. told reporters in Washington that her government isn’t taking sides in the crisis.

In Ambassador Martha Barcena’s words: “We are not against the U.S. regarding the position on Venezuela. We are not siding with Maduro. We are not siding with Guaido. We think a third way of a peaceful solution can be found.”


7:55 p.m.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is calling potentially crippling U.S. sanctions against the troubled nation’s state-owned oil company “criminal.”

In remarks televised Monday on state TV, Maduro accuses the United States of robbing Venezuelans of oil riches that rightfully belong to them.

In a direct message to President Donald Trump spoken in broken English, Maduro says forcefully: “Hands off Venezuela!”

His increasingly isolated government would lose access to one of its most important sources of income and foreign currency along with $7 billion in assets under the U.S. sanctions.

The embattled leader is fighting for his political survival as a growing list of nations recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president.

Maduro says he will be announcing a range of measures in response to the U.S. sanctions within the coming hours but has provided no details.


7:40 p.m.

The White House is not elaborating on the phrase “5,000 troops to Colombia” that could be seen on a notepad held by national security adviser John Bolton at a news conference announcing new sanctions for Venezuela.

Asked to explain the words, the White House said in an email to The Associated Press that “as the President has said, all options are on the table.” The statement did not say anything further about the note.

The phrase could be seen during a portion of a White House news conference Monday during which Bolton and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced sanctions on Venezuela’s state oil company. Colombia borders Venezuela and its government has sided with the U.S. in opposing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

President Donald Trump and other administration officials have repeatedly said “all options” are under consideration as they seek to pressure Maduro to give up power. But there has not been any announcement of any direct U.S. military involvement in the situation.


7:15 p.m.

A legal pad held by U.S. national security adviser John Bolton at a White House news conference on Venezuela contained the phrase “5,000 troops to Colombia.”

Bolton held the legal pad so the phrase was showing during a portion of Monday’s announcement that the U.S. was imposing sanctions on the Venezuelan state-owned oil company.

There was no mention during the news conference of any plans regarding troops in Colombia, which borders Venezuela. But an image was captured by a photographer from The Associated Press and other news outlets.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

The Pentagon has not announced any plans to send U.S. forces to the South American nation.


5:45 p.m.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is repeating his offer of “good offices” to facilitate dialogue and negotiations between Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and self-declared interim president Juan Guaido (gwah-DOH).

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric says the U.N. chief reiterated the offer during a meeting Monday with a delegation from the Caribbean Community on the situation in Venezuela “and its implications for the region.”

The delegation was led by Saint Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Timothy Harris, who is chairman of CARICOM.

Barbados’ ambassador to the United Nations spoke on behalf of CARICOM leaders at Saturday’s meeting of the Security Council on Venezuela and reaffirmed the group’s principles of non-interference and non-intervention in the affairs of states. Elizabeth Thompson said the leaders’ view is that Venezuela’s political crisis “can only be resolved peacefully through meaningful dialogue and diplomacy.”


5:15 p.m.

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton says sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned oil company will ensure the government of socialist President Nicholas Maduro can “no longer loot the assets of the Venezuelan people.”

Bolton says he expects Monday’s actions will block $7 billion in assets and cause more than $11 billion in lost export proceeds during the next year.

The U.S. and Venezuela broke relations last week after President Donald Trump recognized opposition lawmaker Juan Guaido (gwah-DOH) as the legitimate Venezuelan president.

The embattled Maduro still holds the reins in Venezuela, but the U.S. and allies are using economic and diplomatic pressure to push him out. Maduro is accusing the U.S. of openly leading a coup against him.

Bolton and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin briefed reporters at the White House.


4:30 p.m.

Sen. Marco Rubio says the U.S. will hit Venezuela’s state-owned oil company with sanctions aimed at increasing pressure on President Nicolas Maduro to step down from office.

The Florida Republican and two people briefed on the administration’s plans say Treasury will impose penalties as early as Monday on the company known by its acronym PDVSA. The sanctions will include a freeze on any assets the firm may have in U.S. jurisdictions and bar Americans from doing business with it. The two people briefed on the sanctions were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Rubio praised the Trump administration for taking the action, which follows its earlier decision to recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as the interim president.

— Matthew Lee in Washington.


3:30 p.m.

Canada plans to host an emergency meeting of the 14-nation Lima Group next week to discuss options for the crisis in Venezuela.

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said Monday the meeting will be in Ottawa on Feb. 4.

The regional group was created in Lima, Peru, in 2017 to try to hope resolve the crisis in Venezuela and nearly all of the nations now have thrown their support behind opposition leader Juan Guaido as the interim president of Venezuela, deciding that last year’s re-election of President Nicolas Maduro was invalid. Canada has been a key presence the effort to have Guaido recognized as president pending new elections.

Freeland says Venezuela has been a top foreign policy priority for Canada.


2:50 p.m.

A Venezuelan diplomat in Miami says she’s abandoned embattled President Nicolas Maduro, throwing her support behind opposition leader Juan Guaido.

Consular officer Scarlet Salazar issued a videotaped statement Monday saying she’s living up to her constitutional duty as a career diplomat.

Opposition lawmaker Guaido last week declared that he had assumed presidential powers and will hold fresh elections to restore democracy. The U.S. and several other countries have recognized him as interim president, though Maduro is recognized by most nations, as well as the country’s military leadership.

Miami, a stronghold of Venezuelans living in exile.

Salazar says she’s staying and will continue to perform her consular duties at the Miami office.