Pence: U.S. to use ‘economic and diplomatic power’ to restore democracy in Venezuela

Vice President Mike Pence is pictured. | AP Photo

Vice President Mike Pence steered clear of Trump’s talk of ‘military options’ on Wednesday afternoon. | AP Photo

DORAL, Fla. — Vice President Mike Pence made a quick trip Wednesday afternoon to this Miami suburb, home to the nation’s largest Venezuelan community, to reinforce and reiterate the Trump administration’s commitment and support for those fighting against the authoritarian government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

“The U.S will continue to bring the full measure of U.S. economic and diplomatic power to bear until democracy is restored in Venezuela,” Pence told a cheering crowd of hundreds of people at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. “The collapse of Venezuela will endanger all who call the Western Hemisphere home. We cannot and will not let that happen.”

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Pence’s visit comes a little more than a week after President Donald Trump, speaking from his Bedminster, N.J., golf club, told reporters a “military operation, a military option, is certainly something we could pursue” in Venezuela.

Pence steered clear of uttering “military operation” or “military options” in South Florida, speaking only of “economic and diplomatic powers” in dealing with the Maduro government. His comments echoed what he said last week during a tour of Latin American nations, where he spoke of a “peaceable” solution for Venezuela in a sharp departure of Trump’s declaration.

“As the president mentioned a few days ago, the United States has, in his words, many options for Venezuela,” Pence said at an Aug. 15 press conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “But the president and I remain confident that, working with all our allies across Latin America, we will achieve a peaceable solution to the crisis facing the Venezuelan people.”

Venezuela and its 32 million people are in the throes of a worsening political and economic crisis that has spawned a food shortage, rampant inflation and a scarcity in basic medical supplies and medicines.

Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets to protest against Maduro in violent clashes since April that have left more than 120 people dead.

Pence blamed the South American nation’s troubles on Maduro, saying he has taken the oil-rich country on a path from “prosperity to poverty.”

“The Venezuelan people have been brought to this point by the brutality and barbarism of the Maduro regime,” Pence said. “This is not the fate the Venezuelan people have chosen. No free people has ever chosen to walk the path from prosperity to poverty.”

“Venezuela has gone in the opposite direction — toward dictatorship, not democracy, toward oppression, not freedom,” he said.

Joining Pence at the church in the city nicknamed Doral-zuela because of the burgeoning number of Venezuelan nationals who dominate the community were U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.).

In prepared remarks in English and Spanish before Pence’s speech, Diaz-Balart praised the Trump administration’s moves to back the opposition in Venezuela in its battle against Maduro.

“Let it be clear that the Trump administration — I repeat, the Trump administration — and the U.S. Congress stand with the Venezuelan people, including its courageous activists, opposition leaders, political prisoners and their families, the doctors and nurses who have demanded access to basic medicines for their patients, and others who have risked everything to achieve a democratic Venezuela,” Diaz-Balart said.

He mentioned several people — including Wuilly Arteaga, a young violinist and popular activist — who had been imprisoned in Venezuela for speaking out against Maduro and his “thugs.”

“Wuilly has been beaten and arrested simply for his musical protests against the Maduro regime,” Diaz-Balart said. “With his defiant renditions of Venezuela’s national anthem, ringing out in the midst of brutality perpetrated by Maduro’s thugs, Wuilly has become one more symbol of the protest movement which persists despite Maduro’s escalating repression.”

The 23-year-old Arteaga was released from government custody last week after being detained for about three weeks.

Diaz-Balart specifically applauded the Trump administration for imposing sanctions on more than a dozen top Venezuelan leaders, including Maduro.

The U.S. Treasury Department earlier this month targeted Maduro with the sanctions in accusing him of widespread human rights abuses. All of Maduro’s assets subject to U.S. jurisdiction were frozen, and U.S. persons were prohibited from dealing with him.

Pence said Wednesday that the administration is preparing more sanctions against Venezuelan government officials.

“At President Trump’s direction, the United States has already issued three rounds of targeted sanctions against Maduro and his inner circle — and there’s more to come,” Pence told the applauding crowd. “And we’ll continue to act until the Maduro regime holds free and fair elections, releases all political prisoners, and ends the repression of the Venezuelan people.”

Read the White House transcript of Pence’s speech here.

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