Guaido official defends Venezuelan consulate takeover


New York (AFP)

A representative of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido on Tuesday defended taking control of the country's New York consulate as a "liberation," and promised it would soon reopen to "all Venezuelans."

The six-story consulate, located near the United Nations, "was illegally inhabited by officials of the regime of (Venezuelan President) Nicolas Maduro," said Gustavo Marcano, a senior Guaido-appointed official, adding they had "no legal status to be here."

As US President Donald Trump told a press conference with his Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro that his administration could impose "a lot tougher" sanctions on Venezuela, Marcano showed journalists around the consulate.

Some rooms were empty, but the building was dotted with art and pictures of former President Hugo Chavez -- Maduro's predecessor -- maps of Venezuela, piles of passport applications and a cabinet where shirts remained on hangers.

A computer room had been stripped, but it was not immediately clear who had taken the contents.

Guaido's ambassador to Washington, Carlos Vecchio, announced Monday that the opposition government had taken control of three Venezuelan diplomatic properties in the US: two military buildings in Washington and the consulate in New York.

A US State Department spokesman confirmed that the US government -- which recognizes Guaido's authority along with some 50 other countries -- backed the move.

"This is a welcome development for our bilateral relations with Venezuela... US policy is to support democracy in Venezuela, interim President Guaido and the National Assembly, which is the only democratically elected institution in the country," the spokesman told AFP.

In a statement on Twitter, the Venezuelan government meanwhile branded the action an "extremely serious violation of the US government's international obligations," and threatened to take reciprocal action in Venezuela.