US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday asked security forces to protect the "personal integrity" of self-proclaimed Venezuelan president Juan Guaido and announced $20 million in US humanitarian aid for the Venezuelan "people."
Pompeo spoke before the Washington-based Organization of American States at a special meeting convened by the OAS to discuss the situation in Venezuela.
"The United States is ready to provide more than 20 million (dollars) in humanitarian assistance to the people of Venezuela," Pompeo said at the meeting.
"These funds are to help them cope with the severe food and medicine shortages, and other dire impacts of their country's political and economic crisis," he added.
Pompeo also urged the other members of the Organization of American States to recognize Guaido as Venezuela's "legitimate" president and called for a regional meeting of foreign ministers of the countries of the Western Hemisphere to decide what to do regarding Venezuela.
The top US diplomat urged all OAS members to rebuke Maduro's "now-defunct" and "criminally-incompetent" government, saying that "each of us must live up to our calling to promote and defend democracy" in Venezuela.
He also specifically mentioned Cuba, a long-standing US adversary, saying that Havana bears a certain responsibility for the Maduro government's rights abuses.
"They schooled Venezuela's secret police in the dark arts of torture, repression and citizen control," Pompeo said. "Maduro was a fine student at the Cuban academy of oppression."
The Donald Trump administration was the first government on Wednesday to recognize the head of Venezuela's Parliament, Juan Guaido, as the country's legitimate leader, a stance that was quickly also adopted by more than a dozen countries in the region, including Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil and Argentina.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro reacted to the US measure by breaking diplomatic relations with Washington and ordering the expulsion of the personnel at the US Embassy in Caracas, to which the US responded by saying that it will maintain its diplomatic ties with Venezuela because it does not recognize the legitimacy of Maduro's government.
He also said that, given that the Maduro regime is "illegitimate," all its declarations and orders are also illegitimate, declared the US to be the "friend" of the Venezuelan people and recalled those who have died in recent days in anti-government protests there.
When Pompeo finished speaking, a woman got up and held up a sign while shouting accusations against the US for having perpetrated a "coup d'etat" in the South American country.
The woman was removed from the hall where the OAS security entity was meeting.