Vice President Mike Pence is en route to Bogota, Colombia, where he is due to meet with the U.S.-recognized interim president of Venezuela, Juan Guaido, and deliver a speech to the Lima Group on the growing crisis in Venezuela.
Pence and regional leaders are expected to discuss strategy to hasten the departure of disputed Venezuelan President Nicolas 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.
In a briefing to reporters, a senior Trump administration official said the United States intends to bring the “full measure of economic and diplomatic weight” to bear on the Venezuela issue, and the speech will show “concrete examples of what that means.”
Pence is expected to hold meetings with Guaido and Colombian president Ivan Duque, before delivering his remarks. The vice president is also scheduled to meet with Venezuelan exiles and their families before heading back to Washington.
The Lima Group meeting is being 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.
“We are looking forward to speaking with the Lima Group and regional partners after Maduro has shown his true colors, using vandalism and violence to obstruct and frustrate international efforts to deliver the humanitarian aid,” said the senior official.
Use of force
Meanwhile, representatives of Guaido have signaled that at the meeting he will call for the use of force against Maduro for blocking humanitarian aid and unleashing violence on the border.
Guaido’s government’s representative to the Lima Group, Julio Borges confirmed the plan in a tweet late Sunday.
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.
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.”
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.”
UN condemns violence
On Sunday the 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.
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 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.”