Pence to meet with Venezuelan leader who called for ‘all options’ to restore democracy

A day after aid push, skirmishes on Venezuela-Colombia border continue

The day after Venezuela's opposition tried to push aid into Venezuela from Colombia - leading to clashes and bloodshed - border skirmishes continued, albeit on a much smaller scale. At the Francisco de Paula Santander international bridge.
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The day after Venezuela's opposition tried to push aid into Venezuela from Colombia - leading to clashes and bloodshed - border skirmishes continued, albeit on a much smaller scale. At the Francisco de Paula Santander international bridge.

Vice President Mike Pence will meet with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó in Colombia Monday, two days after Guaidó’s call to use “all options” to liberate and restore democracy in Venezuela.

Senior administration officials told a small group of reporters Sunday that Pence will meet briefly with Guaidó, who the United States has recognized as the legitimate interim president, before addressing regional leaders on the crisis in Venezuela. The crisis escalated over the weekend with violence at the border with Colombia as international aid was blocked. Hundreds were injured and at least four people died.

On Saturday, Guaidó said the events of the weekend forced him to pose a formal request to the international community to consider “all options” in Venezuela. The statement was interpreted by members of the diplomatic community as a request for military assistance.

On Sunday, Guaidó’s ambassador to the Lima Group, Julio Borges, made it clear that Guido will request ”the use of force” against the Maduro. “We are going to demand an escalation in diplomatic pressure and in the use of force against the dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro,” Borges wrote on Twitter.

A senior administration official couldn’t say Sunday what exactly will be discussed during the vice president’s conversation with Guaidó, but reiterated that all options are on the table.

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“We’re meeting with him tomorrow,” the senior administration official said. “We’ll hear from him what he would suggest and obviously the vice president will bring that back to the president and it will ultimately be a decision for the president to make.”

Pence will travel to Bogota, Colombia, Monday to address leaders of the 14-nation Lima Group who are wrestling with a regional response to the standoff between Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and the U.S.-backed coalition trying to force humanitarian aid into Venezuela.

After meeting with Guaidó, Pence will address the leaders and announce “concrete steps” that the Trump administration will take against the Maduro government, including possible financial sanctions. Pence will then go to meet with Venezuelan families who have had to flee their country.

A woman was been killed and a dozen more injured in a clash with Venezuelan security forces on the border with Brazil on Feb. 22, 2019.

“What we saw yesterday with the burning of aid trucks, with the use of tear gas against unarmed civilians whose only purpose was to receive that aid, we have to understand what we’re dealing with here is not the institution of a state but a bunch of hoodlums and thugs who resort to violence and a lawless approach to respond to the international communities’ effort to deliver aid,” the official said.

The Lima Group is under pressure to stake out a strong position on the crisis, which has led to millions of Venezuelans flooding across the region. While the United States has taken a leading role, Trump officials say they will be looking to Latin American leaders for a statement defining the region’s position that can be used to build global support.

U.S. officials promised efforts to deliver aid would continue. The prospect of a military option raised over the weekend after at least four people were killed and 300 hundred injured during deadly clashes between Venezuelan forces and demonstrators.

Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who has been advising the Trump administration on Latin American policy, heightened speculation around the potential use of force after he said he spoke with regional leaders about the violence.

“It is now clear that the grave crimes committed today by the Maduro regime have opened the door to various potential multilateral actions not on the table just 24 hours ago,” Rubio tweeted over the weekend.

Asked if the U.S. military is stationed in the region in the event of increased violence or an attack on U.S. personnel, U.S. officials would only say that Southern Command is involved in all the efforts, including the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Senior administration officials said Pence is looking forward to sitting down with the Lima Group and regional powers now that Maduro has “shown his true color using vandalism and violence to obstruct and frustrate” international efforts to deliver the aid.

“This is a very important opportunity to clearly voice our resolute support for interim president Guaidó and the national assembly and for their pursuit for the restoration of democracy in Venezuela,” the official said.

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Franco Ordoñez is a White House correspondent for the McClatchy Washington Bureau with a focus on immigration and foreign affairs. He previously covered Latin American affairs for the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald. He moved to Washington in 2011 after six years at the Charlotte Observer covering immigration and working on investigative projects for The Charlotte Observer.