Trump amps up pressure on Venezuela with fresh aid, sanctions

Trump amps up pressure on Venezuela with fresh aid, sanctions
© Stefani Reynolds
The Trump administration is increasing pressure on Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to step down with new sanctions and a visit to the region by Vice President Pence, who called Maduro a "usurper" with no claim to his country's presidency.
 
In a speech to the Lima Group, a coalition of countries in the Western Hemisphere aligned against Maduro, Pence said the Trump administration will not back down from its support for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó.
  
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"What brings us together today is the recognition, by all the nations gathered here, that Nicolás Maduro is a usurper with no legitimate claim to power, and Nicolás Maduro must go," Pence told the audience, which included Colombian President Iván Duque and Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourão.
 
Guaidó, the chairman of the country's Legislative Assembly, last month was sworn in as interim president in a direct challenge to Maduro's permanence in power.
 
Maduro was earlier sworn in for a second six-year term after a reelection that was deemed illegitimate by the Venezuelan opposition, the United States, the European Union and the Organization of American States.
 
Since Maduro's reelection, the United States has consistently upped sanctions on officials and entities tied to Maduro, as well as imposing wider sanctions on the gold trade, while avoiding full sanctions on oil.
 
The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control on Monday announced a new round of sanctions against four state governors allied to 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 enrichening themselves at the expense of the Venezuelan people," said Pence.
 
Tensions on Venezuela's borders have risen as Maduro loyalists have blocked foreign aid from coming into the country. At least two members of the forces opposed to Maduro have been killed on Venezuela's border with Brazil.
 
"Just days ago, as the world watched, the tyrant in Caracas danced as his henchmen murdered civilians and burned truckloads of food and medicine destined for the people of Venezuela," said Pence.
 
 
Pence said the Trump administration has sent $139 million in aid to Venezuela, including 400 tons of food and medicine through Colombia and Brazil.
 
He also pledged $56 million "to support our partners in the region as they come to the aid of the Venezuelan people."
 
"In the days and weeks ahead, the United States will continue to deliver life-saving food for the hungry, medicine for the desperately ill and shelter for those displaced by the brutality and deprivation of the Maduro regime," said Pence.
 
The U.S. is also calling for regional allies to increase their own sanctions and pressure on Maduro's government, including by transferring ownership of Venezuelan assets to entities under Guaidó's control, and a vote in favor of the opposition leader's proposed representative at the Inter-American Development Bank.
 
Most of Venezuela's military, a linchpin of Maduro's control over the country, has remained loyal to him.
 
Pence warned that those in the military who stick with Maduro will pay a price.
 
"And to those members of Venezuela’s armed forces who continue to back Maduro, I have another message from the president of the United States: 'You can choose to accept President Guaidó’s generous offer of amnesty, to live your life in peace with your families and countrymen,'" said Pence. 
 
"But if you 'choose the second path: continuing to support Maduro,' you will ultimately be held accountable for your actions. As President Trump said, 'You will find no safe harbor, no easy exit, and no way out. You will lose everything,'" he added.