By Patricia Zengerle and Matt Spetalnick
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration will maintain support for opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela's legitimate president and expects dozens of other countries to continue recognizing him following Dec. 6 legislative elections that opposition parties plan to boycott, a U.S. envoy said on Tuesday.
Elliott Abrams, the U.S. special representative on Venezuela, made the formal commitment to Guaido just two days after 27 opposition parties announced they would not participate in the elections, saying they would be rigged by President Nicolas Maduro’s ruling socialist party.
But the ballot, nonetheless, could pave the way toward a loss of opposition control of Venezuela’s National Assembly, which could complicate Guaido's political standing based on his position as the speaker of the congress.
Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Abrams insisted the United States “will not recognize this fraudulent election” and said it was in discussions with most of the roughly 60 countries that have backed Guaido and was confident they would stick with him.
The United States and about 60 other countries have recognized Guaido, regarding Maduro’s 2018 re-election as a sham. But Maduro has remained in power, backed by the OPEC nation's military as well as Russia, China, Cuba and Iran.
U.S. officials say privately that Maduro's continued rule despite heavy U.S. sanctions has been a source of frustration for U.S. President Donald Trump.
In an interview with the Axios news site in June, Trump played down his decision in January 2019 to recognize Guaido as Venezuela's rightful leader.
Asked whether he regretted having thrown his weight behind Guaido, Trump was quoted as initially saying: "Not particularly," but then went on to say: "I could have lived with it or without it, but I was very firmly against what's going on in Venezuela."
Trump's aides, however, see his tough approach on Venezuela as a way of appealing to the large Cuban American community in Florida, a key swing state as he seeks re-election in November.
The Trump administration in recent months has especially honed in on the global shipping industry in an effort to cut off Venezuela's oil trade, a financial lifeline for Maduro's government.
(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Paul Simao)