Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shored up the support of Venezuela’s neighbors during a visit Sept. 17-20, to pressure Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro to resign.
Pompeo’s visit to Guyana, Brazil, and Colombia comes as international efforts to advance democratic change in the country that appear to have stalled recently.
In January 2019, Venezuelan Congress head Juan Guaido proclaimed himself an interim president of the country until new free, transparent, and credible presidential elections could be held. Guaido has been recognized by more than 50 countries, including the United States.
Maduro has asserted his grip on power and overseen a six-year economic collapse of his country that drove 5 million Venezuelans to flee.
A report this week by United Nations investigators found Maduro’s government has committed systematic human rights violations, including murder and torture amounting to crimes against humanity.
Pompeo visited on Sept. 18 a triage center for receiving Venezuelan refugees in the Brazilian city of Boa Vista, near the border with Venezuela, where he met with some who fled the country and spoke with Brazil’s Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo.
“The Venezuelan people are being forced to leave their country due to a humanitarian crisis that is caused by a despotic and tyrannical regime that isn’t concerned with the wellbeing of its own people and that deliberately creates the worst possible conditions for its own people’s lives,” Araujo said at a joint press conference with Pompeo.
More than 15 percent of Venezuela’s population was forced to flee due to “life conditions, the lack of freedom, and food shortages,” Araujo said, adding that they sometimes walk “250 kilometers or more by foot to arrive in Brazil.”
Brazil’s border with Venezuela has been closed since March 18 due to the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic, and the flow of migrants crossing into Brazil has dropped from an average of 600 a day to a handful of Venezuelans who walk along cross-country trails.
“They want what all human beings want—dignity, they want a democratic, peaceful, sovereign Venezuela to call home, one where they and their children can find jobs and live,” Pompeo said at an airbase in Boa Vista, capital of Roraima state.
The effort to help Venezuelan refugees is carried out in collaboration with the United States, Araujo said.
Brazil’s right-wing government two weeks ago declared Maduros’s diplomats personae non gratae but stopped short of expelling them.
Pompeo praised Brazil’s humanitarian efforts to receive 265,000 Venezuelans who have crossed the border. He said Washington was announcing an additional $348 million to help Venezuelan refugees, including $30 million for those in Brazil, bringing the total U.S. contribution to more than $1.2 billion since 2017.
Araújo said that the total U.S. donation accounts for 20 percent of $400 million spent in the past two years to operate shelters for Venezuelan refugees. This “is extremely significant,” he added.
“The United States has also indicted Nicolas Maduro for drug trafficking,” Pompeo said. He is not only a leader “who has destroyed his own country” but he also transits illicit drugs into the United States impacting Americans, Araújo said.
Pompeo’s stopover was deplored by former Brazilian leftist President Luiz Lula Inacio da Silva, who said Pompeo had only visited Brazil to “provoke Venezuela.”
On Sept. 19, Pompeo visited Colombian President Ivan Duque who he thanked for his stance against Maduro and pledged continued assistance to help fight drug trafficking.
“Your support for interim (Venezuelan) president Juan Guaido and the democratic transition for a sovereign Venezuela free of malign influence from Cuba, from Russia, from Iran is incredibly valued,” Pompeo told Duque in a joint press conference in Bogota, adding that the United States also appreciates Duque’s “leadership in confronting Hezbollah,” a Lebanese terrorist group heavily supported by Iran.
“The international community has to act to bring this situation to an end,” said Duque, who has referred to Maduro as a dictator and often accuses him of sheltering and supporting members of Colombian rebel groups.
Colombia has denounced Maduro before the International Criminal Court along with other countries, Duque said, but the United Nations report of this week validates through its field visits that Maduro’s regime is responsible for crimes against humanity and calls for international action.
“The head of the [Venezuelan] dictatorship is a war criminal and the international community must act to put an end” to these violations, Duque said.
Duque thanked the United States and 23 other countries participating in an international naval operation called Orion for dismantling drug trafficking in the Caribbean, and praised the U.S. support and coordinated work to fight “very dangerous criminal rings” operating in Colombia.
Colombia faces constant pressure from the United States, a major destination for cocaine, to reduce the size of crops of coca, the drug’s chief ingredient.
Duque has set a target to destroy 321,237 acres of coca this year, up from 247,105 acres last year, and has signaled aerial spraying of the herbicide glyphosate could restart.
During a brief visit in Guyana, Pompeo and President Irfaan Ali signed agreements to strengthen U.S. investment and cooperation on energy and infrastructure while vowing to deepen cooperation on maritime security and drug trafficking interdiction.
Pompeo praised Ali’s support for the Lima Group, a regional body of American nations that have pushed for a diplomatic solution to Venezuela’s political crisis.
“We support the need for free and fair elections in our hemisphere,” Ali said. “With urgency, we believe that democratic values and principles should be respected in Venezuela as well.”
Pompeo announced at a joint press conference with Ali that the United States has allocated $5 million to help Venezuelan refugees fleeing to Guyana.
Pompeo also stressed that Venezuela can only become democratic if Maduro resigns and Cuban security forces leave the country. This is the objective of the Venezuelan people as well as the EU countries, the United States, and other American countries that have recognized Guaido as the duly-elected leader of Venezuela, Pompeo said.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.