Vice President Mike Pence said Monday that the Trump administration would seek to use all diplomatic and economic tools at its disposal to ease the crisis in Venezuela, arguing that Americans would be threatened if the state collapses.
Speaking in Cartagena, Colombia, Pence said that the U.S. will continue to apply pressure on the regime of socialist President Nicolas Maduro “until we see democracy restored” in Venezuela, Reuters reports.
“President [Donald] Trump has made it very clear that we will not stand by while Venezuela collapses into dictatorship,” he told reporters. “A failed state in Venezuela threatens the security and prosperity of our entire hemisphere and the people of the United States of America.”
Though he admonished Maduro for violently cracking down on opposition groups, Pence did not go as far in his remarks as Trump, who said Friday that the U.S. would consider a “military option” to solve Venezuela’s worsening civil unrest. Pence said instead that the Trump administration would work with regional partners to “achieve by peaceable means” the restoration of democracy.
Trump’s remarks about potential military force against the Maduro regime drew condemnation from Venezuela and other South American countries, which are already sensitive to real or imagined interference by the U.S. (RELATED: Maduro Asks For UN Meeting With Trump As Venezuela Crumbles)
Maduro loyalists used Trump’s remark Monday to garner support for an anti-American rally in Caracas. Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino told supporters that the U.S. was promoting unrest as a pretense to move in and steal to steal Venezuela’s oil reserves.
“This is a time of reflection,” he said. “You are either a Venezuelan patriot, or pro-Yankee.”
Pence, who is on a tour of Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Panama, did not directly address the topic of regime change during his remarks in Cartagena. Instead, he said Venezuela’s economic and political meltdown had the potential to boost the flow of illicit drugs and illegal immigrants to the U.S., “compromising our borders, compromising our economy, and in some cases compromising the security of our families and communities.”
The Trump administration has already sanctioned Maduro and dozens of top Venezuelan officials for human rights abuses and violations of democratic norms. U.S. officials are reportedly debating whether to hit the Venezuelan energy sector with additional sanctions, a decision complicated by the fact that Venezuela is one of the top exporters of oil to the U.S. and owns several Gulf Coast refineries under the Citgo name.
Since late April, at least 120 Venezuelans have been killed in street battles between security forces and anti-government demonstrators protesting crime, food shortages and devastating inflation.
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