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Juan Guaidó, interim president or opposition leader?

Juan Guaidó, recognized by many nations as Venezuela’s rightful interim leader, greets public employees in Caracas on March 5. (Carlos Jasso/Reuters)

Times are tough all over, and apparently one of the more critical issues in the world today is distinguishing the proper title of Venezuela’s Juan Guaidó.

On Tuesday, the State Department’s deputy spokesman, Robert Palladino, took a few minutes at the top of the intermittently-twice-a-week briefing to upbraid reporters whose news organizations refer to Guaidó as either the opposition leader of Venezuela, or the country’s self-proclaimed president.

“Neither is correct,” Palladino said, ticking off “a few basic facts.”

Guaidó was elected president of Venezeula’s National Assembly on Jan. 5, and five days later, Nicolás Maduro was inaugurated to a second presidential term following a disputed election. On Jan. 23, Guaidó said he was assuming the mantle of president under a clause in the constitution and was quickly recognized by the United States and the Organization of American States.

“To refer to Juan Guaidó as anything other than the interim president falls into the narrative of a dictator who has usurped the position of the presidency and led Venezuela to the humanitarian and political and economic crisis that exists today,” Palladino said sternly.

The dueling presidencies are such a unique situation that there is almost no precedent. And while Palladino clearly stated the U.S. view, there are complicating factors. While 54 countries have recognized Guaidó as interim president, that is less than a third of the world’s 190-plus countries. Maduro can summon masses of supporters to his rallies. And Venezuela’s military command still backs Maduro, even though some security forces have abandoned him in the face of the country’s economic collapse and political crisis.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has also been on a Twitter tear over how news organizations describe Guaidó. A few hours before Palladino spoke, Rubio tweeted, “In order to undermine the constitutional basis for @jguaido interim Presidency, #Putin’s #Russia repeatedly describes him as the “self proclaimed” President of #Venezuela. And so does @CNN.”

Pressed on his rationale, Palladino said, succinctly, “Not a complaint. Pointing out. Just trying to correct.”

“We don’t want to feed into the rhetoric of the current dictator.”