El Salvador announced late Saturday that Venezuelan diplomats serving under embattled President Nicolas Maduro had 48 hours to leave the country. He added that El Salvador would welcome a future diplomatic corps sent by opposition leader Juan Guaido.

Juan Guaido (L) continues fighting Nicolas Maduro (R) for control over Venezuela

Caracas responded in kind on Sunday when the foreign ministry expelled El Salvador diplomats, giving them 48 hours to leave Venezuela.

El Salvador’s move was the latest example of a country publicly designating Maduro’s presidency in Venezuela as illegitimate. Guaido is currently leading an opposition movement against him. Multiple countries, as well as international groupings, have backed Guaido.

Guaido has managed to secure control over several Venezuelan embassies abroad, including in the US. However, his opposition movement has been unable remove Maduro from power, and the country has found itself in a political stalemate while dealing with a humanitarian crisis.

Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele

Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele announced the expulsion in a memo published on Twitter. In it, he said his government “recognized the legitimacy of the interim president, Juan Guaido, until free elections can be held, in accordance with the Venezuelan Constitution.”

Bukele also said his government’s decision was in line with previous reports from a UN human rights commission that Maduro had systematically violated citizens’ rights.

Outspoken against ‘dictator’ Maduro

Bukele, a member of the conservative Grand Alliance for National Unity (GANA), has voiced his opposition to the socialist Maduro on prior occasions, such as during his inauguration this past June.

“Dictators like Maduro in Venezuela will never be legitimate because they maintain power by force and do not respect the will of their people,” he said at his swearing-in.

The US ambassador to El Salvador, Ronald Johnson, welcomed Bukele’s announcement. He tweeted in Spanish that the US applauded Bukele’s decision “to make sure that El Salvador is on the right side of history” and highlighted that more than 50 other nations “support the Venezuelan people at this moment of crisis.”

Ongoing political standoff

In January 2019, Guaido declared Maduro’s presidency to be illegitimate based in part on the previous elections in May 2018, which were marked by significant irregularities.

The opposition leader says Maduro violates the country’s constitutionally enshrined democratic principles, while Maduro accuses Guaido of staging a coup and of being a US puppet.

The political standoff has spurred mixed responses from the international community. Germany, among other countries, has expressed support for Guaido, and the European Union recently ratcheted up sanctions on officials close to Maduro.

However, the United Nations continues to recognize Maduro’s government, in part due to support for Maduro from Russia and China.

Various attempts at peace talks between Venezuela’s opposing political camps have failed.

cmb/sms (EFE, Reuters, AFP)