- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 24, 2019

The United States remains committed to backing Venezuela’s opposition movement and ousting President Nicolas Maduro, with the Trump White House’s top diplomat saying Sunday that the socialist leader’s days in power are numbered.

In a pair of interviews Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Trump administration would continue to funnel humanitarian aid into Venezuela and back efforts by opposition leader Juan Guaido to take control of the oil-rich South American nation.

“[Humanitarian] aid went in at the request of the legitimate president of Venezuela,” Mr. Pompeo said, referring to Mr. Guaido, whom the U.S. and other nations across the hemisphere last week recognized as the country’s rightful leader.

“That was our objective yesterday. It’s our objective today. It will be our objective tomorrow as well,” Washington’s top diplomat said during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I am confident that the Venezuelan people will ensure that Maduro’s days are numbered.”

On Monday, Vice President Mike Pence will meet with members of the Lima Group — a consortium of 14 Latin American nations convened in 2017 — to help draft a diplomatic solution to the Venezuelan crisis. Mr. Guaido, the leader of Venezuela’s legislature, also will participate in Monday’s meeting.

“There’s more sanctions to be had. There’s more humanitarian assistance that we can provide” to the opposition, Mr. Pompeo said about Monday’s meeting in Peru.

The State Department already has imposed visa restrictions on Maduro regime leaders and revoked visas for other officials of the central government, including members of the Venezuelan Constituent Assembly.

Mr. Pompeo’s comments came a day after troops loyal to the Maduro regime fired tear gas into crowds of Guaido backers amid violent clashes along Venezuela’s borders that left several dead and hundreds injured.

Regime officials have closed border crossings, preventing U.S. shipments of food, medicines and other aid from entering the country. Opposition backers have swarmed the border barricades, battling government troops in an attempt to clear a path for the aid.

On Sunday, Mr. Pompeo slammed the Maduro regime’s use of military force to quash opposition forces at the border, reiterating that the Trump White House has not taken a military response off the table.

“There were five or six or eight killed yesterday, but there have been hundreds and hundreds killed from starvation over the past weeks and months. Millions of people having to flee their homes,” Mr. Pompeo said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“This is the worst of the worst of a tyrant,” Mr. Pompeo told Fox News. “I think the Venezuelan people are seeing that. We saw yesterday the military begin to see it as well,” he said, adding that hundreds of rank-and-file Venezuelan troops have fled the country and are seeking asylum in Colombia.

A day after the border clashes, Mr. Guaido took to social media to demand that the international community consider all options — including military action — to help topple the Maduro regime.

“Today’s circumstances force me to make a decision and officially tell the international community that all options must be on the table for ensuring freedom of the homeland,” Mr. Guaido tweeted.

When asked Sunday on Fox News if the use of military force remains an option, Mr. Pompeo replied: “We said every option is on the table.”

Earlier this month, the top U.S. officer in South America told congressional lawmakers that U.S. forces stand ready to defend American citizens and territory in Venezuela, should the crisis deepen.

“The situation in Venezuela is dire,” Navy Adm. Craig Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command, testified Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“While Russia, Cuba and China prop up the Maduro dictatorship, the remainder of the world is united” against the regime, he said.

Command officials will continue to support U.S.-led diplomatic efforts in the country but “are prepared to protect US personnel and diplomatic facilities if necessary,” Adm. Faller said.

Asked whether his command has seen any weakening of the Maduro regime as a result of U.S. diplomatic pressure, Adm. Faller said: “We are watching that closely we are seeing results” but not enough to secure political change in Venezuela.

• Carlo Muñoz can be reached at cmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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