Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is facing growing international pressure after his troops repelled foreign aid convoys at the country’s borders, with the United States threatening new sanctions and Brazil urging allies to join a “liberation effort”.
Juan Guaido, Venezuela’s self-declared interim president, urged the international community on Sunday to consider “all measures” to overthrow Maduro after clashes at border crossings left at least three protesters dead and 300 others wounded near the Brazilian border.
The opposition leader’s call came in the face of a meeting of the regional Lima Group of nations in Bogota on Monday that will be attended by US Vice President Mike Pence.
Pence is set to announce “concrete steps” and “clear actions” at the meeting to address the crisis, a senior US administration official said on Sunday, declining to provide details.
The US last month imposed crippling sanctions on the OPEC nation’s oil industry, squeezing its top source of foreign revenue.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was confident that “Maduro’s days are numbered,” blaming the border violence on armed supporters known as “colectivos”.
“We’re aimed at a singular mission – ensuring the Venezuelan people get the democracy they so richly deserve,” he said on CNN’s State of the Union programme on Sunday.
President Donald Trump has in the past said military intervention in Venezuela was “an option”, and following the Venezuelan opposition’s failure to penetrate government blockades, some in Washington stepped up the belligerent rhetoric.
US Senator Marco Rubio, an influential voice on Venezuela policy in Washington, said the violence on Saturday had “opened the door to various potential multilateral actions not on the table just 24 hours ago”.
Later, he tweeted out pictures of anti-American politicians including Panama’s Manuel Noriega, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu at the height of their power and then brutal downfall, in a not-so-subtle suggestion being that Maduro himself could suffer a similar fate.
Meanwhile, Brazil, a diplomatic heavyweight in Latin America which has the region’s largest economy, called on “the international community, especially those countries that have not yet recognised Juan Guaido as interim president, to join in the liberation effort of Venezuela.” Colombia’s President Ivan Duque in a tweet denounced Saturday’s “barbarity”, saying Monday’s summit would discuss “how to tighten the diplomatic siege of the dictatorship in Venezuela”. Maduro, who retains the backing of China and Russia, which both have major energy sector investments in Venezuela, says the opposition’s aid efforts are part of a US-orchestrated coup.