Headlines over the past year have been peppered with mentions of Venezuela and its crisis. President Nicolas Maduro and Juan Guaido, opposition leader and self-declared interim president, fight for control of the country, a battle which has led to great civilian violence. On January 23, 2019, the United States was the first country to recognize Juan Guaido as the Interim President. A recent outbreak of violence at the Venezuelan border prompted discussions between Vice President Mike Pence and opposition leader Guaido.
In recent years since the 2013 election of Nicolas Maduro as president, Venezuela has faced a multitude of problems including hyperinflation, economic war, food shortages, debt, health assistance, crime and poverty and others which make the effects of the crisis worse, sparking a humanitarian crisis. After his reelection in January 2019, many claimed fraud and in late January Juan Guaido declared Maduro a “usurper” and swore himself in as president, an effort supported by more than 50 countries including the U.S. Maduro denies a humanitarian crisis and blames the U.S. for orchestrating a coup through aid efforts.
The weekend of February 23, 2019, violence erupted at the border when the Venezuelan military blocked the arrival of supplies and food from Colombia into Venezuela. According to the Colombian foreign minister, 285 people were injured and 37 were hospitalized following the firing of rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters, and others reported fatalities and crippling wounds.
Guaido called for aid from other nations, citing worsening food and medicine shortages. “When he arrived in Bogota, Guaido said, ‘Yesterday we saw an unprecedented crime with the burning of humanitarian aid that generously arrived at the Colombian collection point and which was then handed over to Venezuelan volunteers, who are again insisting that it’s necessary to save lives. Venezuela today is again in crisis and it could have been alleviated yesterday’,” according to CNN.
On Saturday, February 23, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the measures taken by Maduro’s government and said that the U.S. would “take action against those who oppose the peaceful restoration of democracy in Venezuela.” In a separate statement, Pompeo spoke in favor of Juan Guaido, saying that “While Interim President Juan Guaido builds distribution networks for humanitarian assistance, Maduro blocks its entry and sends armed criminal gangs to attack the innocent civilians accompanying the convoys.”
On Monday, February 25, Mike Pence traveled to Colombia to speak with the Lima Group, comprised of Latin American leaders. The White House issued a statement claiming that “At the invitation of the President of Colombia Ivan Duque, Vice President Mike Pence will travel to Bogota, Colombia on behalf of President Donald Trump on Monday, February 25th to voice the United States’ unwavering support for interim President Juan Guaido and highlight the Venezuelan people’s fight for democracy over dictatorship,” according to the White House.
The statement also highlighted his plans to address the humanitarian and security crises and declare the intentions of the U.S. to continue sending aid. Pence planned to meet with leaders of the Lima Group to outline a plan of action. In this meeting, Pence asked the group to seize Venezuela’s oil assets, handing them instead to Guaido and his representatives, as well as the revocation of visas from Maduro’s officials.
Additionally, “The Lima Group of nations on Monday said it would take Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro to the International Criminal Court and that it was more resolved than ever to see a democratic transition in the country,” according to The Miami Herald.
Both sides of American government are responding to the conflict. Republican Senator Marco Rubio denounced the actions of the Maduro regime following the violence, and Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders described it as a “serious humanitarian crisis.”
Maduro threatens the United States, claiming “If the empire dares to attack, they will be received by the strength of the Venezuelan armed forced,” according to CNN. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Maduro that his “days are numbered,” according to The Conversation. However, some Americans are wary of involvement in Venezuela due to the claim that the “United States’ long history of interfering in Latin American politics suggests that its military operations generally usher dictatorship and civil war – not democracy,” according to The Conversation.