- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The White House said Wednesday the U.S. will revoke dozens of visas tied to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, as the administration ramps up pressure as part of an international campaign against the socialist strongman’s inner circle and financial networks.

Vice President Mike Pence announced that the State Department will revoke 77 visas held by Mr. Maduro’s officials and their families during a speech to The Latino Coalition, a partnership of Hispanic business owners, at a downtown Washington hotel.

“We will continue to hold the Maduro regime accountable until ‘libertad’ is restored in Venezuela,” Mr. Pence said, using the Spanish word for freedom.

The U.S. and countries across the Western Hemisphere and Europe have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as the oil-rich country’s “interim president,” saying Mr. Maduro’s 2018 re-election was riddled with fraud. So far, however, Mr. Maduro, backed by Cuba, China and Russia, has resisted calls to step down and the Venezuelan military for now has stayed loyal to the regime.

National Security Advisor John R. Bolton also Wednesday warned foreign banks they will face repercussions for doing business with the Caracas regime. Last week, the U.S. announced it had revoked 49 other visas and imposed an initial batch of sanctions.

Mr. Guaido returned to Venezuela from a Latin American tour on Monday, despite threats from Mr. Maduro, and a political stalemate appears to be developing.

Mr. Trump has pointedly not ruled out the use of force, though for now the administration is stopping well short of military action and is relying on economic and diplomatic pressure with allies such as Chile and Brazil.

“The United States is putting foreign financial institutions on notice that they will face sanctions for being involved in facilitating illegitimate transactions that benefit Nicolas Maduro and his corrupt network,” Mr. Bolton said. “We will not allow Maduro to steal the wealth of the Venezuelan people.”

Mr. Bolton also tweeted support for Saturday protests planned by Mr. Guaido, although the government says it will hold counterdemonstrations the same day.

More than 50 countries have joined the campaign of support for Mr. Guaido as the South American nation’s rightful leader.

That includes the German ambassador to Venezuela, Daniel Kriener, whom the Maduro government declared “persona non grata” on Wednesday.

Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said Mr. Kriener has 48 hours to leave Venezuela, citing on Twitter “his recurrent acts of interference in the internal affairs of the country.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas denounced the move as “incomprehensible,” saying in a statement that Berlin firmly backs Mr. Guaido and the expulsion “escalates the situation instead of easing tensions.”

Separately, an American journalist working in Venezuela was escorted from his Caracas apartment early Wednesday by Venezuelan security forces, witnesses and colleagues told the Associated Press. Cody Weddle has reported from Venezuela for more than four years, most recently as a freelancer for the ABC affiliate in Miami, Florida.

Venezuelan officials have not commented on the case, but a Venezuelan press group said representatives had spoken with authorities and learned that Mr. Weddle had been taken to military-police headquarters in east Caracas.

In Washington, Mr. Pence called on all nations to recognize Mr. Guaido, saying there can be “no bystanders” in the fight.

“Nicolas Maduro is a dictator with no legitimate claim to power, and Nicolas Maduro must go,” Mr. Pence said.

This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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