US Vice President Mike Pence said here Monday that anyone who threatens Colombia for its defense of the opposition leader who claims to be the legitimate president of Venezuela will have Washington to deal with.
“Let me take this opportunity to say to all those who would threaten our friend for taking a bold stand in defense of democracy in Venezuela, know this: Colombia is our strongest partner in the region, and any who would threaten her sovereignty or security would do well not to test the commitment to our ally or the resolve of the United States of America,” Pence said in Bogota.
Pence used his speech to the so-called Lima Group to announce new, tougher economic and diplomatic sanctions on the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro .
“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,” the vice president said.
Similarly, Pence urged the Venezuelan military to “take up the banner of democracy” and support the self-proclaimed acting head of state, National Assembly speaker Juan Guaido.
The US is in the vanguard of the roughly 50 countries, including most of the Lima Group members and the major European powers except Italy, that have recognized Guaido.
Russia, China and India are among the dozens of nations that regard Maduro as the legitimate president.
Founded in the Peruvian capital in August 2017, the Lima Group comprises Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Guyana and St. Lucia.
Mexico, however, has distanced itself from the group since the other members recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate leader.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a leftist who took office Dec. 1, eschews involvement in Venezuela, citing articles in the Mexican constitution that mandate respect for national self-determination and non-interference in the domestic affairs of other countries.
“To all of those in the armed forces of Venezuela today, we say: If you take up the banner of democracy, President Guaido’s government and the United States government will welcome your support and grant relief from the sanctions that have been placed,” Pence said in Bogota.
“Nicolas Maduro is a usurper with no legitimate claim to power, and Nicolas Maduro must go,” he said.
Though Pence again intoned Washington’s mantra of “all options are on the table,” hinting at military action, his Brazilian counterpart categorically rejected the idea.
Hamilton Mourao, a retired army general, said that for Brazil, the military option was never on the table in dealing with Venezuela.
Guaido, who proclaimed himself acting president on Jan. 23, attempted last Saturday to bring into Venezuela a large quantity of US aid stockpiled in the Colombian border city of Cucuta.
Maduro’s government, which has received shipments of medical supplies and other necessities from allies such as Cuba, China and Russia, views the US-led aid initiative as a Trojan horse.
The attempt to bring the aid across the border failed amid clashes that left 285 people injured.
Following that failure, Guaido called on the international community to consider all options and one of his leading US supporters, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), posted on Twitter a pair of photos of late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
The first image was of Libya’s ruler presiding over a public event. The second showed a bloodied Gadhafi in the hands of Western-backed rebels moments before he was sodomized with a bayonet and killed.
Hours before the Lima Group conference in Bogota, the European Union reiterated its opposition to military intervention in Venezuela.
“What is quite clear is that we need a peaceful political, democratic and Venezuelan-owned resolution of this crisis,” a European Commission spokeswoman told reporters at a midday briefing in Brussels. “This obviously excludes the use of force.”
“What we want to see are free, transparent and credible presidential elections in accordance with the Venezuelan constitution,” she said.
The EU has set up an international contact group with several Latin American countries with the aim of laying the foundation for early presidential elections in Venezuela and to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid.
China on Monday criticized the use of humanitarian aid for achieving political objectives in Venezuela.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Lu Kang referred to “interference by external forces” in the internal matters of Venezuela and said that Beijing opposed the use of humanitarian assistance “to achieve political objectives.”
The United Nations and the International Red Cross also expressed concern about the “politicization” of aid and say they will continue to work with Venezuela’s existing government.
The UN Security Council will meet Tuesday afternoon to consider the crisis in Venezuela, the current occupant of the council’s rotating presidency, Equatorial Guinea, confirmed.
The session was scheduled at US request.
Weeks ago, US diplomats began circulating a draft Security Council resolution that would endorse the opposition-controlled National Assembly as Venezuela’s only democratically elected institution and call for a new presidential election.
Russia put forward an alternate text denouncing any attempt to interfere in Venezuela.
Both the US and Russia have the power to veto any resolution.