Washington – The Trump administration called on Latin American and Caribbean nations Monday to take bold moves against Venezuela that will make allies squirm, including kicking the crisis-ridden country out of the region’s main diplomatic body and launching money-laundering probes of Venezuelan officials in their countries.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence delivered the challenge during a speech to ambassadors of more than 30 nations at a special meeting of the Organization of American States, the United Nations-like organization for the Western Hemisphere.
The message marks a turning point for the Trump administration, which has been careful not to dictate actions against the government of President Nicolás Maduro and instead encourage them to do what they can. But on Monday, Pence ratcheted up the language, making specific requests and charging that it was time to do more to help the Venezuelan people.
He called on “freedom-loving” neighbors to investigate Venezuelan leaders for money laundering and block leaders from traveling to their nations. Pence also called on Venezuela to suspend its presidential elections on May 20, as McClatchy reported early Monday, and announced new U.S. sanctions against three Venezuelans and 20 companies for narcotics trafficking.
“The truth is the Venezuelan people would choose a better path if they could, but under Nicolás Maduro they will never have that chance,” Pence said. “The so-called elections in Venezuela scheduled for May 20 are nothing more than a fraud and a sham.”
Samuel Moncada, Venezuela’s deputy minister of foreign affairs for North America, responded harshly.
He called Trump and Pence racists and hypocrites and encouraged reporters to recall Trump’s reading during the campaign of an anti-immigrant poem called the “Snake,” about a reptile who bites a woman after she takes it in to care for it.
Moncada also charged that the U.S. had committed “international crimes” and blasted Pence for he said was using using “God’s name” in a speech to justify trying to overthrow a sovereign government. Latin American leaders are particularly sensitive to U.S.-backed regime change in the region.
He criticized Pence and Trump for acting like humanitarians while announcing the end of several programs that could lead to the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans, including the end of DACA and Temporary Protective Status.
“It’s a racist insult to millions of people,” Moncada told reporters after Pence spoke. “Do you not see that you have a racist president? The emperor is naked. The president is racist. He’s insulting the whole world.”
Moncada said the worst was hearing other Latin American leaders applaud as Pence spoke.
The White House this week plans to turn up the pressure on Latin American and Caribbean allies to take stronger action against Venezuela, whose economic and humanitarian crisis has become a focus of the region.
Colombia and some Caribbean nations face destabilizing conditions as they’ve been forced to absorb hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans fleeing their own country in search of food and work as runaway inflation and food shortages have collapsed the once-thriving nation’s economy.
The international community has been generally supportive of Washington’s efforts, but most Latin American leaders have been reluctant to take strong actions on their own.
Foreign leaders have told U.S. officials they don’t have the same legal frameworks to follow suit with their own sanctions. The United States is now calling for more.
Panama has warned its banks from doing business with the Maduro regime and Costa Rica has already blocked travel of the Venezuelan minister of defense.
Trump’s aides have drawn up outlines of available economic and individual sanctions meant to strangle Venezuela’s economy and force a change. But the administration, so far, has stopped short of applying sanctions on Venezuela’s precious oil, which could starve the oil-dependent Caracas government of desperately needed cash.
U.S. Ambassador Michael Kozak, of the State Department’s bureau of democracy, human rights and labor told McClatchy that the administration’s goal is to punish the wrongdoers in the regime, not the Venezuelan people.
“The effort is to try to put the pressure on the people who a r e responsible for the disaster that they have made in Venezuela, not to exacerbate the disaster for the innocent people in the country,” Kozak said.
Last month, Pence issued a similar challenge during the Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru.
He emphasized Monday that a secure hemisphere is important for everyone in the region. Those who supported freedom, he said, need to take bolder action.
“We must do this because it’s right,” Pence said. “The people of Venezuela deserve democracy.”
Source: Herald Online