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Pence announces new US sanctions on Venezuela’s Maduro

BOGOTA, Colombia — The Trump administration on Monday announced new sanctions on allies of Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro and financial assistance to his opponent Juan Guaido as an effort to deliver humanitarian aid to the economically devastated nation faltered amid strong resistance from security forces who remain loyal to the socialist leader.

Vice President Mike Pence arrived in the Colombian capital for an emergency summit of regional leaders to discuss Venezuela’s crisis and immediately met with Guaido.

In a speech to the group, Pence urged regional partners to freeze oil assets controlled by Maduro, transfer the proceeds to Guaido and restrict visas for Maduro’s inner circle. He said the U.S. was imposing more sanctions on four governors aligned with Maduro, including the Venezuelan politician who negotiated the release of a Utah man held in jail more than two years on what were seen as trumped-up weapons charges.

He also repeated President Donald Trump’s threat that “all options are on the table” — fiery language that Guaido himself has adopted in what many see as a dangerous escalation of rhetoric hinting at the use of military force.

“It’s time to do more,” said Pence. “The day is coming soon when Venezuela’s long nightmare will end, when Venezuela will once more be free, when her people will see a new birth of freedom, in a nation reborn to libertad.”

Pence’s appearance before the Lima Group — a 14-nation coalition of mostly conservative Latin American nations and Canada that has joined together to pressure Maduro — comes two days after a U.S.-backed effort to deliver humanitarian across the border from Colombia ended in violence over the weekend.

Forces loyal to Maduro fired tear gas and buckshot on activists accompanying the supplies and set the material on fire. Four people have been reported killed and at least 300 wounded, although only a few were hospitalized.

For weeks, the U.S. and regional allies had been amassing emergency food and medical kits on Venezuela’s borders in anticipation of carrying out a “humanitarian avalanche” by land and sea to undermine Maduro’s rule.

Guaido, who has been recognized as interim president by the U.S. and 50 other governments who say Maduro’s re-election last year was illegitimate, called on foreign ministers to step up and do more to isolate Maduro.

“Being permissive with the usurpation of power would be a threat to democracy in all of America,” he said.

But he stopped short of publicly asking them to authorize the use of military force to remove Maduro, as a close ally, Julio Borges, the opposition ambassador to the Lima Group, suggested on Sunday. U.S. officials have also avoided talk of military action.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in interviews on “Fox News Sunday” and CNN’s “State of the Union,” did not rule out U.S. military force but said “there are more sanctions to be had.”

Any additional sanctions will increase the suffering of the Venezuelan people and may lead to more political violence, said Mark Weisbrot, the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, who advocates a negotiated end to the political crisis.

“The ‘humanitarian aid’ this weekend was a public relations stunt, since the aid was just a tiny fraction of the food and medicine that they are depriving Venezuelans of with the sanctions,” Weisbrot said. “As the Trump administration admitted, it was an attempt to get the Venezuelan military to disobey Maduro. It was a farce, and it failed.”

Pence in his speech said the U.S. would continue to search for places to pre-position aid for eventual delivery to Venezuela. He also announced $56 million in new assistance to countries in the region helping to absorb an exodus of more than 3 million Venezuelans who have fled hyperinflation and shortages in recent years.

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