President Donald Trump told the wife of Venezuela's opposition leader that he's with them "100 percent" and that "Russia needs to get out" of Venezuela.
Trump answered a reporter's question about Russia's actions in Venezuela as he stood next to Fabiana Rosales, the wife of opposition leader Juan Guaidó. Rosales came to Washington to drum up support for her husband, who declared himself Venezuela's interim president in late January. He was serving as the president of Venezuela's Congress, and said the constitution allowed him to form a transitional government because Maduro had been re-elected in a sham vote last year.
The political challenge turned Guaidó into an instant target of the Maduro administration, which accused him of organizing violent protests and quickly put him under a travel ban.
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"Today, in Venezuela it's freedom or dictatorship, life or death," she told reporters.
She added that "those who are paying the price of this hate are the children, dying in hospitals." She said people have no food and 80 percent of the population is without power.
On Thursday, Rosales is scheduled to have a private meeting with first lady Melania Trump in Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida.
Rosales, who also met with Vice President Mike Pence at the White House, has emerged as a powerful presence on the international scene.
In a recent tour of Latin American countries to solicit support for Venezuela's opposition, Rosales' age (she is 26) and informal dress — often jeans — belie an inner toughness and maturity cultivated with her activist husband during violent street protests in Venezuela's capital.
"Look, I am the wife of President Juan Guaidó and I will accompany him on whatever route he takes and we will overcome whatever obstacles we face as we have done through all our years together," Rosales said during an interview in Perú's capital of Lima. "But I got involved in politics because I want to change my country."
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"I don't want my daughter to grow up wanting to leave Venezuela," she said, a reference to the roughly 3 million Venezuelans who have fled their country amid a collapsing economy, hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicines, and now blackouts.
As Guaidó, who is 35, leads efforts to remove Maduro through protests at home and by trying to persuade Venezuela's military to abandon the socialist leader, Rosales is visiting different countries to rally support for her country's beleaguered opposition with highly publicized tours.
This month she traveled to Perú and Chile, where she met with the presidents of both countries, and spoke in universities about Venezuela's humanitarian crisis.
Rosales met her husband at a youth rally for Voluntad Popular, an opposition party she has worked with since her university years. She has become a household name in Venezuela in recent months, standing at Guaidó's side in rallies attended by thousands. Recently, she has also taken on the role of international ambassador for Venezuela's opposition, as Guaidó becomes bogged down in domestic affairs.
Venezuela's first-lady-in-waiting has helped her husband look more presidential, says Dimitris Pantoulas, a Caracas-based political analyst.
"She is a professional, young, educated woman, and to a certain extent she is conservative," Pantoulas said. "That image corresponds to (Venezuelan) stereotypes of what a presidential couple should look like, especially for those in the middle classes."
In the interview, Rosales say that her "most important role is to be a mother, and I'm also a sister and wife."
Guaidó snuck out of Venezuela for a one-week tour of South America, in which he led a failed effort to move several tons of food and medicine into the country. But upon returning he has focused most of his energy on sustaining his movement, which has lost some of its momentum, as Maduro remains in power and Venezuelans focus on the difficult task of surviving.
In her recent trips abroad, Rosales has met with large crowds of Venezuelan migrants, urging them to keep their faith in Guaidó and telling regional leaders that "a dictator" like Maduro does not fall in a matter of days. She says the Venezuelan opposition is making progress, designating ambassadors around the world, and recovering control of Venezuelan oil assets abroad with the help of the United States.
Rosales' opponents have cast her recent tour as a desperate attempt to keep Guaidó in the international spotlight, as the Venezuelan crisis drags on and the world's attention moves elsewhere.
"She is trying to boost Guaidó's image, as support for his movement in Venezuela deflates," Arevalo Mendez, Maduro's ambassador to Chile, told a local news outlet last week.
The daughter of a journalist and a farmer from the rural state of Mérida, Rosales says she became interested in social issues early as she accompanied her mother to interviews.
She decided to follow in her mother's footsteps and study journalism, but also helped her father transport his crops to Caracas along roads where he was sometimes shaken down by corrupt military guards.
Rosales says she has gone through many of the travails currently faced by Venezuelans, including the harrowing medicine shortages.
Her father died in 2013, after suffering a heart attack. He could have survived, Rosales said, but there was no medicine in his village to stabilize him, and no ambulance to take him to the nearest hospital.
"I spent a lot of time in pain, wondering why this had happened to me," she said. "But now I have taken this as a lesson from life. And I am working for my daughter to inherit a better country."
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