WASHINGTON - The Trump administration will bar dozens of Venezuelan leaders from the United States in the latest move by the Trump administration to help remove Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro from power.
Vice President Mike Pence made the announcement in Washington on Wednesday to Latin American leaders at the Latino Coalition Legislative Summit on the economy, immigration and Venezuela. Pence said the State Department will revoke 77 visas from prominent Venezuelans, including officials and their families.
“Nicolás Maduro is a dictator with no legitimate claim to power and Nicolás Maduro must go,” Pence said.
The international campaign against Venezuela is at a crossroads, as Maduro has been able to hold onto power amid debilitating oil sanctions from the United States and global campaign against him.
Pence, who has visited the region five times, has largely led the international effort to put pressure on Maduro and has met with Juan Guaidó, the internationally recognized leader of Venezuela.
Pence is among top leaders of the United States, including National Security Advisor John Bolton, Elliott Abrams, the new special envoy to Venezuela, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, who have made the issue a priority.
Rubio said Wednesday that other nations should follow the U.S. lead and also revoke Venezuelan visas.
“The bottom line is that the regime insiders at the highest levels, none of them have their families living full time inside Venezuela,” Rubio said. “Their families live in Spain, their families live in Curacao. Their families often travel to the United States to connect to flights to go to other places, every single one of them. None of them have family living under the conditions they’ve imposed on the people of Venezuela. So now, their relatives will no longer be able to use the U.S. to visit or as a transit point to enjoy the money that their family members have stolen from the people of Venezuela.”
Florida Sen. Rick Scott said the U.S. government should make public any Venezuelans in the U.S. who are benefiting from regime leaders.
”If we have sanctions, I want to understand how they’re getting enforced,” Scott said. “I live in Florida, I personally don’t see the enforcement against people who are part of the Maduro regime. It might all be happening, I’m not suggesting it’s not, but I want to know. They ought to keep putting this stuff out so we know what’s happening.”
The United States was the first nation to recognize Guaidó as the legitimate interim president. Since then, more than 50 nations have also recognized Guaidó as the legitimate leader.
The White House has tried to maintain pressure on Maduro, who has been able to maintain the support of the Venezuelan military to resist international efforts to force humanitarian aid into the country. He has accused Guaidó of being the puppet of a U.S.-financed coup.
While losing the support of much of the world, Maduro has kept the support of Russia and China, whose leaders have publicly stood by the Caracas regime and blocked U.N. resolutions against him.
Pence had a warning for those governments that did not join in the global effort.
“We’ve made it clear to leaders around the world,” Pence said. “There can be no bystanders in the struggle for Venezuela’s freedom.”
In Colombia, Pence specifically called out governments in the hemisphere, including Mexico, Uruguay and eastern Caribbean nations for their lack of support.
Pence also pointed at the role Cuba has played in helping Maduro. Pence said the only reason Maduro can still claim power is because of the “brutality of his support and help he receives” from Cuba, whose leaders he said were “aiding and abetting” Maduro.
“Maduro is not a Venezuelan patriot. He is a Cuban puppet,’” Pence said quoting President Donald Trump’s Feb. 18 address to the exile community in Miami. “People of Venezuela know Cuba’s leaders are the real imperialist of the Western Hemisphere.”