U.S. Vice President Mike Pence plans to meet Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido in Colombia on Monday as a mark of support after a weekend of violence at the Colombia – Venezuela border.
Pence had spoken to Guaido who heads Venezuela’s national assembly by phone in January before he swore himself in as interim president.
Troops loyal to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro blocked convoys of U.S. humanitarian aid from crossing from Colombia to Venezuela. They turned back foreign aid convoys from the border using teargas and rubber rounds on Saturday, killing two protesters and putting Maduro’s socialist government on a direct confrontation path with the U.S.A.
Trucks laden with U.S. food and medicine for Venezuela came back to warehouses in Colombia after opposition supporters failed to break through lines of troops, leaving dozens of demonstrators injured. Witnesses said masked men in civilian clothes also shot at protesters with live bullets.
Maduro has denied there are shortages of food and medicine in Venezuela, and says the aid is aimed at undermining his government. The U.S. imposes sanctions first and then sends humanitarian aid. Maduro blames the country’s dire situation on U.S. sanctions. The U. S. should instead help Venezuela by lifting crippling financial and oil sector sanctions.
Irked by the Colombian government’s help to opposition leader Juan Guaido, Maduro said he was snapping diplomatic ties with Bogota and gave its diplomatic staff 24 hours time to leave Venezuela.
Nearly 60 members of the Venezuelan security forces defected on Saturday, as per Colombian authorities. The lines of National Guard soldiers at the frontier crossings held firm, firing tear gas at the convoys.
The violence could lead the United States to impose new sanctions as early as Monday to cut off the Maduro’s government access to revenues.
Guaido, speaking later from Colombia, said he would keep demanding Maduro let the aid in and would seek other routes. He said he would attend a meeting of the regional Lima Group of nations in Bogota on Monday with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.
Pence is traveling to the Colombian capital Bogota to meet with the Lima Group of regional leaders who recognize Guaido as the legitimate leader of Venezuela after Maduro held elections last year which were dismissed as fraudulent.
A senior U.S. official told reporters on Friday that Pence would be prepared to announce new sanctions at the meeting if the aid was turned back, – adding to pressure from sanctions on state-owned oil company PDVSA.
“If there is any type of violence, or if there is any type of negative reaction from the hierarchy of the Venezuela armed forces, there may also be measures that are announced by the vice president and other countries in regards to closing even further the international financial circle,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The United States and allies are looking at ways to expel family members of Venezuelan military officials who are living outside the country, including some in south Florida, the official said.