Bogota, Colombia – US Vice President Mike Pence announced fresh US sanctions against allies of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Monday, after meeting with Latin American leaders including Venezuela’s self-declared interim president Juan Guaido in Colombia.
Once a rich oil nation, Venezuela now suffers from hyperinflation, as well as food and medicine shortages.
Maduro has continued to refuse the delivery of aid from the United States, calling it an attempt to gain power over his country.
“The tragic events of this past weekend have only steeled the resolve of the United States of America to stand with you, to stand with freedom-loving people in Venezuela,” Pence told Guaido at the Lima group meeting in Colombia’s capital Bogota.
Pence also urged other Latin American countries to freeze the assets of PDVSA, Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, and to restrict visas for officials close to Maduro.
“Effective today, the United States will impose additional sanctions on regime officials, including three border state governors implicated in last weekend’s violence and a member of Maduro’s inner circle,” he said, adding that the US stands with Guaido “100 percent”.
On Friday, two people were killed in a confrontation between the Venezuelan military on the Brazilian border with Venezuela as an attempt to deliver aid was made from there.
Venezuelan security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets from their country’s side of the Simon Bolivar bridge in Cucuta – the main point of entry between Colombia and Venezuela – while the Venezuelan opposition attempted to deliver trucks loaded with aid. Nearly 300 people were injured, according to the UN.
Three trucks were also set ablaze on another Cucuta bridge when they attempted to enter Venezuela, and the remaining vehicles were sent back to Cucuta in order to safeguard the aid they carried.
‘Consider all options in ousting Maduro’
Guaido, who is recognised by most Western nations as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, called on all foreign powers “to consider all options in ousting Maduro”.
“Today Venezuela continues to face a severe humanitarian crisis, that could have got some release on Saturday with the support of the region,” he said.
In response, Maduro tweeted that Venezuela would sort its own issues, without “the empire and its lackeys”.
China, who supports Maduro, hit back at the embattled leader’s critics, saying it opposes “intervention by external forces in the internal affairs of Venezuela”.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Monday they “also oppose using the so-called humanitarian aid to serve political ends and stir up instability and even turmoil in Venezuela”.
‘No effect on Maduro’s grip’
Despite the US’s announcement of fresh sanctions and its continued support for Guaido, Sergio Guzman, director of Colombia Risk Analysis, a political risk consultancy, said Monday’s Lima Group meeting would have “no effect on Maduro’s grip on the country”.
In a statement following Monday’s meeting, the bloc demanded that the Maduro leave his post immediately and make way for a democratic transition that included free elections.
“Essentially the Lima Group agreed to continue diplomatic pressure without directly favouring military intervention, which suggests a continuity in the status quo and this will have no effect on Maduro’s grip on the country unless Russia and China, for some reason, decide to change their line of support,” Guzman said.
“It’s a blow to Guaido who was expecting more of an endorsement of his continued claim to double down, but truth is, beyond exerting pressure without military force there’s not much other countries can do to accelerate a transition that, in our view, already began with Guaido’s declaration and his recognition by other countries worldwide,” he added. “I think we’re in this for the long run.”
The Lima group was established in August 2017 by 12 countries to find a peaceful resolution to the Venezuelan crisis. The US is not part of the group, and the Trump administration has so far declined to rule out the use of military force.