Pence, in Colombia to Meet Guaidó, Announces New Venezuela Sanctions
BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Vice President Mike Pence said on Monday that the Trump administration would impose sanctions on additional Venezuelan officials and urged regional leaders to freeze assets of the state oil company, moving to increase international pressure on the embattled Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro, to step aside.
Mr. Pence made the announcement in the Colombian capital, Bogotá, where he met with the Venezuelan opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, who declared himself the country’s interim president last month.
The new sanctions will target four Venezuelan governors allied with Mr. Maduro, and come on top of crippling sanctions issued late last month against the state oil company, known as PDVSA, a crucial source of revenue for the Maduro government. The Treasury Department said the governors were “involved in endemic corruption and in blocking the delivery of critical humanitarian aid” during a standoff last weekend between the opposition and the government.
On Monday, Mr. Pence also announced an additional $56 million in aid to Venezuela, and he urged Latin American nations to transfer the control of assets from Mr. Maduro to Mr. Guaidó.
The vice president warned of more punitive steps to come.
“I want to assure you, President Guaidó, that the tragic events of the past weekend have only steeled the resolve of the United States of America,” Mr. Pence said. “We are with you 100 percent.”
The vice president’s statement came two days after Mr. Guaidó and his allies suffered a setback in their effort to weaken Mr. Maduro’s grip on the country.
The opposition’s ambitious plan to deliver badly needed humanitarian aid inside the country ended in just one truck making it across the Colombian border by Saturday, the opposition’s self-imposed deadline for the end of a blockade established by Mr. Maduro.
Confrontations between opposition protesters and government forces devolved into violence.
Opposition leaders had viewed the aid delivery as a potentially tide-turning moment as they work to undermine Mr. Maduro’s authority. After it fell short, and a call for mass defections by the Venezuelan military went largely unheeded, some opposition figures began talking of outside military intervention as a possible next step.
President Trump has called such intervention “an option,” but the administration has so far not committed to taking any military action.
Over the weekend, as Mr. Pence was preparing to travel to Colombia, making his fifth trip to Latin America, senior administration officials said the vice president would announce “concrete steps” on Monday.
Last week, in preparation for the attempted aid delivery, Mr. Guaidó slipped across the border into Colombia, defying a travel ban imposed by the Venezuelan courts. Mr. Guaidó was expected to meet with Mr. Pence on Monday morning. It was unclear when, or even if, Mr. Guaidó would be allowed to return to Venezuela.
In recent days, Mr. Pence and several other senior administration officials, including John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, issued multiple calls for Mr. Maduro to allow in food and medicine and threatened action if he did not relent.
American officials have enthusiastically tracked Venezuelan troop defections and castigated Mr. Maduro’s forces as hoodlums and thugs.
“To other officials that are living in fear of Maduro, make the right choice and side with your fellow citizens,” Mr. Bolton said, reaching out to potential defectors on Twitter.
It is unclear how many troops have defected, but on Monday, Iván Duque, the Colombian president, said 440 had crossed over into Colombia.
On Sunday, one of Mr. Pence’s senior advisers said the setback on the aid delivery had not deterred the administration’s plans. The official said “all options” were on the table going into the discussions with Mr. Guaidó, including a military intervention.
The administration has taken a hawkish stance on Venezuela, which Mr. Trump has in recent weeks framed as an ideological adversary of the United States whose brand of socialism must be defeated.
The president has steadily ramped up his rhetoric.
Last fall, Mr. Trump praised Venezuelans, who have been leaving their country in large numbers because of the political turmoil and dire economic situation, as “great, great people,” some of whom he said he had gotten to know by visiting his golf club in South Florida.
He was more forceful in a speech to the Venezuelan community in Florida last week, when he declared that the “twilight hour” of socialism would soon be over.
The situation in Venezuela has also become a matter of partisan debate inside the United States.
Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, has been a vocal supporter of the effort to oust Mr. Maduro, and he drew criticism on Sunday when he appeared to compare the Venezuelan president to Muammar el-Qaddafi, the deposed Libyan ruler who was dragged through the streets and killed during a violent Arab Spring uprising.
Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democratic of Connecticut, accused the administration of using the delivery of humanitarian aid as a red herring to bring about “regime change.”
“Venezuela didn’t just lurch into humanitarian crisis,” Mr. Murphy wrote on Twitter. “The aid is being sent there now as part of a regime change strategy. Many are hoping that it will be the match that lights a civil war against Maduro.”