Trump administration stands with the U.S.-recognized interim president of Venezuela, Juan Guaido “100 percent,” Vice President Mike Pence said Monday as he announced new financial assistance for the Venezuelan people.
“We stand with you, and along with all the nations gathered here today, we will keep standing with you until democracy and liberty are restored,” Pence said in a speech delivered to the Lima Group, following a trilateral meeting in Bogota, Colombia with Guiado and Colombian President Ivan Duque. Pence said disputed Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro “must go.”
While in Bogota, Pence and regional leaders discussed strategy to hasten the departure of Maduro and how to get humanitarian aid currently piling up on the border in Brazil and Colombia into Venezuela, where supplies of food and medicine have run low.
“We’ve imposed sanctions on more than 50 top officials as well as on Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, PDVSA, to stop Maduro’s cronies from enriching themselves at the expense of the Venezuelan people,” Pence said, noting that the U.S. plans to continue to put financial and diplomatic pressure on Maduro’s regime.
He added that “it is my privilege to announce that the United States will provide an additional $56 million to support our partners in the region as they come to the aid of the Venezuelan people.”
The Lima Group meeting was held after a weekend of unrest and violence on the Venezuelan borders with Colombia and Brazil, where Maduro’s troops and loyalists have blocked the delivery of food and medical supplies. Maduro insists the aid is a pretext for an armed U.S. invasion.”Maduro’s loyalists turned on their own people. As the world watched, they set fire to trucks loaded with food and medicine desperately needed by the Venezuelan people,” Pence said in his speech.
Use of force
Guaidohas called on the international community to consider “all options” to resolve Venezuela’s crisis. His rhetoric is similar to President Trump’s, who has said “all options are always on the table.”
“All political and diplomatic resources have been exhausted. Now what can we do as a region in order to support Venezuela?” he said in remarks Monday.
The senior administration official declined to elaborate on the use of force other than that the U.S. will have meetings with Guaido and the Lima Group “to discuss the next steps.”
Guaido declared himself interim president in late January and is recognized by the U.S. and dozens of other countries as Venezuela’s legitimate head of state.
Aid not getting through
None of the aid that’s currently piling up in Colombia and Brazil has been able to get through Maduro’s forces. At one border point, aid trucks caught fire, leading the crowd to rush to save the boxes of food and medical supplies.
A U.S. State Department official traveling with the American and Brazilian aid convoy told VOA that two trucks crossed the border into Venezuela on Saturday, but were not allowed through the military checkpoint there and turned back to the Brazilian side.
The senior White House official said that the administration is undeterred. “What we’d like for Maduro to do is focus on the bottlenecks,” he said. “And if you overcompensate and focus on that, there will be opportunities elsewhere.”
U.N. condemns violence
On Sunday, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the head of the U.N. human rights office, Michelle Bachelet, called for violence to be “avoided at any cost and for lethal force not to be used in any circumstances.”
On Saturday, Maduro supporters fired bullets at those attempting to get aid trucks into Venezuela, while Venezuelan border troops fired tear gas and rubber bullets.
Pence on Monday, referring to Maduro as the “tyrant in Caracas”, said the violence over the weekend has “only steeled our resolve”, to support Guiado.
According to the U.N., “The excessive use of force used by the Venezuelan security forces, as well the involvement of pro-government elements,” have resulted in at least four confirmed deaths and more than 300 injuries on Friday and Saturday.
Dany Bahar, a Venezuela expert at the Brookings Institution,said the next steps for the international community will be to find ways to increase pressure diplomatically and financially on the Maduro regime, and “to try to get the United Nations on board, which has not happened yet.”
Critics of the U.S.’s confrontational polices are concerned they will only exacerbate tensions in the region and make it more difficult to reach a peaceful resolution to the political stand-off in the country.
“If they didn’t intervene in the way they’re doing now, there would be some kind of compromise that would emerge through negotiation. And they don’t want that,” said Mark Weisbrot, a Latin America analyst and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.
However Trump administration supporters point out the government security forces in Venezuela are responsible for the violent repression in the country and the killing of innocent civilians.
“One side has all the guns, and that’s the regime of Nicolas Maduro,” said Roger Noriega, who was an assistant secretary of state for Latin America during the administration of President George W. Bush and is now a political analyst with the American Enterprise Institute.
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Photo “V.P. Mike Pence in Venezuela” by Vice-President Mike Pence.