Members of the embattled government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro will face justice despite a burgeoning plan from the Trump administration to offer leniency to top Venezuelan officials working toward his ouster, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday.
In an interview with McClatchy’s The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star, Pompeo was asked whether the U.S. strategy – outlined by his special envoy to Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, last month – provides room for Venezuelan leaders overseeing the country’s political and economic collapse to face repercussions.
“Yes,” Pompeo replied sternly, declining to elaborate.
“But I’ll say this,” Pompeo continued, “previous presidents refused to take on this challenge. The Venezuelan people are the losers for that. They’ve been subjected by Maduro and his nasty regime to deprivation that wasn’t necessary.”
The Trump administration has applied pressure in an effort to topple the Maduro government without the use of force. But Maduro’s staying power has compelled President Donald Trump’s aides to seek alternative methods to remove him, including opening channels of communication with his top aides and offering them incentives to defect.
The United States would not have jurisdiction to take prosecutorial steps against Maduro or his aides, and it is unlikely to call for action from the International Criminal Court, a body that the Trump administration has frequently mocked. But Washington could use its diplomatic weight on any government that emerges from Maduro’s departure to provide leniency to those who helped pave the way for a transition.
In January, the United States recognized Juan Guaidó, president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, as the country’s interim president, and has since rallied over 50 countries to join in that recognition.
Pompeo referred to Guaidó as “duly elected” and said the administration remains committed to his leadership bid.
“This administration’s been serious about restoring Venezuelan democracy. We’re working to deliver that,” Pompeo said. “We’re working to build out that coalition of 50-plus coalition that has now recognized Juan Guaidó as the appropriate, duly elected leader in Venezuela. And I’m confident we will provide the support that’s necessary so that Venezuela can return to a country with some level of freedom, some level of democracy, and the opportunity to feed its own people.”
Despite the administration’s pressure campaign on his government and insistence that Maduro leave office, officials in the administration have expressed concern that Trump might legitimize his reign with an impromptu exchange at the United Nations General Assembly later this month in New York.
It is not clear whether Maduro, who attended the 2018 summit, plans to return this year. But Pompeo demurred when he was asked whether Trump would shake Maduro’s hand if he showed up.
“I don’t speculate on things like that,” Pompeo said.
Michael Wilner reported from Washington.