Juan Guaido
© Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Juan Guaido, President of the Venezuelan National Assembly speaks at an opposition rally in La Guaira, January 13, 2019.
US Vice-President Mike Pence has phoned Juan Guaido, president of the National Assembly of Venezuela who claims to be the country's legitimate leader, and praised his 'courageous leadership' while pledging continued US support.

Pence's phone call to Guaido was meant as expression of US support for the National Assembly as the "only legitimate body in the country," Reuters reported on Tuesday, citing an unnamed White House official.

News of the phone call comes after a tweet by Pence declaring Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro a "dictator with no legitimate claim to power." Maduro won the May 2018 presidential election with over 67 percent of the vote, but the US has refused to recognize the results.

In the phone call with Guaido, Pence pledged "continued support from the US until democracy is restored" in Venezuela and urged him to unite the opposition groups, according to Reuters.

The National Assembly reportedly declared Guaido "acting president" on January 11, after Maduro was sworn in to his second presidential term. On Tuesday, it declared Maduro a "usurper."

The Trump administration has taken a hard line on Venezuela, calling the current government "illegitimate" and encouraging Latin American countries to sever diplomatic and trade ties with Caracas. Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vowed to use economic and diplomatic power to "restore a real democracy to that country."

Other prominent political figures in Washington that have called for regime change in Caracas and replacing Maduro with the National Assembly are national security adviser John Bolton and Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida).

Pence's phone call falls short of outright US recognition of Guaido as Venezuela's president, as speculation fed by a CNN report on Tuesday suggested.

Venezuela currently has two competing legislatures: the pro-government Constitutional Assembly elected in August 2017 has stripped the opposition-dominated National Assembly of its powers. The US and many of Venezuela's neighbors have not recognized that election as legitimate.

Industrious Wikipedia editors appear to have already embarked on conjuring Washington's declarations into reality, declaring Guaido "interim president" of Venezuela as of January 11, while noting that "Maduro is still believed to be in power."