MIKE PENCE, the US vice-president, has said Venezuela needs action rather than dialogue in a rallying call to Venezuelan exiles in Miami to the cause of “interim president” Juan Guaidó.
Demanding that President Nicolás Maduro step down, Mr Pence told the Florida gathering that “all options are on the table”, and warned Mr Maduro “not to test the resolve” of the US.
“This is no time for dialogue. This is time for action,” he said.
“The time has come to end the Maduro dictatorship once and for all.”
Removing Mr Maduro has been a priority for Donald Trump from the beginning of his presidency, but has become an obsession for the White House since Mr Guaidó, the president of the national assembly, declared himself “interim president” on Jan 23.
Asked last night whether he was willing to commit the US military to operations in Venezuela, Mr Trump said: “I don’t want to say that, but it’s always an option. Everything’s an option, I take no options off the table.”
But John Bolton, the national security adviser and one of the most strident hawks on Venezuela, attempted to reduce the temperature somewhat, saying he did not believe US military intervention was imminent.
He reacted angrily to reports that Mr Maduro was planning to send 15 tons of gold from central bank vaults to the United Arab Emirates in coming days, in return for cash euros.
Oil sanctions announced by the US last week are hitting hard, and Mr Maduro is becoming increasingly desperate to find means of keeping his regime afloat – including accessing $1.5billion (£1.15billion) of gold kept in the Bank of England’s vaults. Mr Bolton wrote on Twitter: “Not only does Maduro require foreign paramilitary support to keep remaining threads of a failed dictatorship, but reports show he is flying out Venezuelan assets by the plane full. Is he stealing resources from the people to pay for Russian intervention?”
Mr Guaidó has urged his supporters to take to the streets today and demand the resignation of Mr Maduro, who is clinging to power with the support of Russia, China and Iran.
Yesterday Mr Maduro,
56, tweeted a video of himself inspecting troops. The military, which has so far remained largely loyal, is seen as holding the key to the embattled president’s future. Mr Guaidó has appealed to the forces to defect, writing an open letter to soldiers offering them an amnesty – which many of them publicly burned.
The 35-year-old yesterday also published an open letter to Mexico and Uruguay, turning down their offer of mediation in talks with Mr Maduro, saying he would only consider talks “when the usurpation is over”. He argued that Mr Maduro’s election last May was fraudulent, and so the end of his term, in January, marked the end of his legitimate rule. He insisted that, with the presidency “vacant”, he, as the president of the national assembly, became under the constitution the “interim president”. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, yesterday expressed dismay at Mr Guaidó’s position, siding instead with his friend Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the president of Mexico, and criticising Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, for calling for further sanctions. Mr Corbyn wrote on Twitter: “The future of Venezuela is a matter for Venezuelans. Jeremy Hunt’s call for more sanctions on Venezuela is wrong. We oppose outside interference in Venezuela, whether from the US or anywhere else. There needs to be dialogue and a negotiated settlement to overcome the crisis.”
The European Parliament officially recognised Mr Guaidó on Thursday, and urged the EU to follow suit. European countries including Britain, Spain, France and Germany, have set a deadline for tomorrow for Mr Maduro to call elections, or they will join the US, Canada, Australia, Israel and many Latin American nations in recognising Mr Guaidó. Francisco Sucre, a senior figure in Venezuela’s national assembly, called on Mr Maduro to quit. He said Venezuela under Mr Guaidó welcomed the EU’S involvement as “we are going to need its cooperation during the initial stages of the recovery of our country.” He added: “Every hour power is evaporating from Maduro’s hands. “Diplomatic workers across Europe are ready to take a step forward and are waiting for the right moment.”
‘He is flying out Venezuelan assets by the plane full. Is he stealing resources to pay for Russian intervention?’