Venezuela opposition leader to be State of the Union guest

Venezuela opposition leader to be State of the Union guest
Colombian President Ivan Duque, right, talks to Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guadio at a ceremony marking one year since a car bomb attack at the police academy, during the inauguration of a regional anti-terrorism summit in Bogota, Colombia, Friday, Jan. 20, 2020. Colombian government blames rebels of the National Liberation Army, ELN, for the bombing that killed at least 21 people on Jan. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Ivan Valencia)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó is expected to be a White House guest at President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday night on Capitol Hill, The Associated Press has learned.

The invitation comes as Guaidó has been trying to win face time with Trump, his most important international ally. Guaidó’s visit to Miami on Saturday rounded out a two-week world tour that took him first to Colombia, then across Europe and Canada, where he held meetings seeking more international help to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from office.

Guaido’s attendance at the speech, which was first reported by Bloomberg News, was confirmed to the AP by two congressional source. They were not authorized to publicly disclose the information and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

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 President Nicolás 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.