WASHINGTON/BOGOTA (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Monday the United States would bring all its economic and diplomatic power to bear to see democracy restored in Venezuela, saying a failed state there threatens Americans.
“President (Donald) Trump has made it very clear that we will not stand by while Venezuela collapses into dictatorship,” Pence told reporters in Cartagena, Colombia. “A failed state in Venezuela threatens the security and prosperity of our entire hemisphere and the people of the United States of America.”
Pence has struck a more conciliatory tone than Trump during the start of a Latin American tour to Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Panama, saying a peaceful solution to unrest and political turmoil in Venezuela is possible.
Trump last week threatened military action, sparking condemnation from around the region, including from countries which are usually some of leftist Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s harshest critics.
“We are absolutely determined to bring the full measure of American economic and diplomatic power to bear until we see democracy restored in Venezuela,” Pence told reporters after meeting with Venezuelan families living in Colombia.
He did not answer directly when asked whether he was making an argument for regime change in the South American country, where Maduro recently expanded his powers through a widely criticized new legislative body controlled by his Socialist Party allies.
“The regime is experiencing change right now and what we’re witnessing is Venezuela is collapsing into dictatorship,” he said.
U.S. anti-drug officials have long identified Venezuela as a leading transshipment point for South American cocaine destined for the U.S. market. Pence said the flow of narcotics could pick up due to Venezuela’s crisis which could also trigger increased illegal immigration into the United States, “compromising our borders, compromising our economy, and in some cases compromising the security of our families and communities.”
Maduro is seeking to capitalize on local outrage over Trump’s comments by holding an “anti-imperialist” protest on Monday.
More than 120 Venezuelans have been killed in unrest since April, as the economy collapses deeper into a recession compounded by triple-digit inflation as well as food and medicine shortages.
Reporting by Tim Ahmann in Washington, additional reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Tom Brown