VP Pence Signals Rewards With A Warning In Venezuela Speech

VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb and Jorge Agobian of VOA’s Spanish Service contributed to this report.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence says the United States is lifting of sanctions on Venezuela’s former intelligence service, but warned the 25 magistrates of the country’s supreme court of possible punishment and reiterated “all options are the table” to remove President Nicolas Maduro. 

The audience inside the U.S. State Department for the annual Washington Conference on the Americas remained silent when Pence alluded to possible military action. 

The vice president did prompt applause at other moments in his speech when he vowed the United States would stand with the people of Venezuela until “libertad” is restored.

​The Pentagon is also dispatching the USNS Comfort, a military hospital ship, to the region in June for five months to offer medical care to Venezuelan refugees and others, Pence confirmed. 

The U.S. Treasury Department on Tuesday removed sanctions on General Manuel Figuera, who headed the SEBIN intelligence agency and has switched sides. He was among about 150 officials and businesses sanctioned as part of a U.S. effort to weaken support for Maduro.

National Assembly and opposition leader Juan Guaido welcomed the U.S. move, saying on Twitter it was evidence of the firm support of the opposition’s allies.

Guaido reiterated a call for a transitional government and free elections.

Besides blaming Maduro for Venezuela’s political and economic woes, the U.S. vice president, in his speech, also pointed fingers at Cuba, Russia and Iran for helping keep Hugo Chavez’s successor in power. 

“No one has done more to support the corrupt Maduro regime than Cuba,” said Pence. “The people of Venezuela are essentially Cuba’s hostage.”

Russia is seeking a foothold in the Western Hemisphere through Venezuela, according to Pence. 

Iran, claimed Pence, is working with Venezuela to “establish a safe haven for its terrorist proxies.” 

In response to the Trump administration’s stance, Democratic Party lawmaker Darren Soto is expressing support for “a wide range of actions, including incentives to encourage the Venezuelan military to rise up against the tyrannical Maduro regime.”

​​The Florida congressman also is calling on the Trump administration to support legislation “to provide Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelans and stop deportations for those here in the U.S.” 

The United States has recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president and its officials have repeatedly insisted Maduro must resign.

Most Western nations have followed Washington’s lead. 

Venezuela is mired in an economic crisis, with inflation exceeding one million percent and citizens being forced to do without essential goods and services. 

Guaido last week tried to provoke a military revolt to force Maduro from office, but the attempt failed as most of the armed forces remain loyal to Maduro.

The Venezuelan Supreme Court said Tuesday that seven opposition lawmakers should be investigated for a range of crimes, including treason and conspiracy. A short time later, the pro-government Constituent Assembly voted to strip the lawmakers of their parliamentary immunity.

“The United States will not let a free Venezuela fail,” Pence vowed in his speech Tuesday.

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