- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Vice President Mike Pence called anew for the ouster of Venezuela’s embattled President Nicholas Maduro on Tuesday, asserting that the socialist leader’s removal is the only way democracy can be restored in the South American nation.

The Maduro regime is “a threat to peace and security across the hemisphere,” Mr. Pence said, pointing to the flood of thousands of refugees fleeing Venezuela’s economic meltdown to nations around the region — including to the United States.

Speaking in Miami, ahead of the deployment of the Navy’s USNS Comfort hospital ship to the region in response to the widening humanitarian crisis, Mr. Pence reiterated the Trump administration’s six-month-old assertion that Mr. Maduro “is a dictator with no legitimate claim to power.”

“Nicolas Maduro must go,” the vice president said in a speech alongside Adm. Craig Faller, the U.S. Southern Command chief. “Once he is gone, we believe there can be a pathway to free and fair elections [in Venezuela].”

U.S.-backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido and his followers made global headlines in May by announcing a self-declared “final phase” of internal efforts to oust Mr. Maduro from office.

Violent clashes briefly followed in Caracas between Guaido supporters and government troops, but ended when pro-Maduro military forces reasserted control over the Venezuelan capital.

Mr. Pence said Tuesday that under Mr. Maduro, Venezuela has devolved into “unprecedented crisis and oppression,” with nine out of 10 people now living in poverty.

The USNS Comfort’s deployment marks the second time in six months that the Navy hospital ship has headed to the region. Pentagon officials said the ship will make several stops in Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Panama, Saint Lucia, and St. Kitts and Nevis.

The Comfort’s medical crews “will provide care on board and at land-based medical sites, helping to relieve pressure on national medical systems strained partly by an increase in displaced Venezuelans,” the Navy said in a statement on Monday.

U.S.-led humanitarian efforts in the region have seen Washington send some 500 metric tons of food, medicine and other material to Venezuela in recent months.

Mr. Pence lamented Tuesday that all of the aid has been blocked from entering Venezuela by military forces loyal to Mr. Maduro.

“We are with our neighbors and we will stand with them,” the vice president said of the ongoing effort to aid the Venezuelan people. “We will continue to stand strong until freedom, democracy and the rule of law are restored.”

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