Pence lends US backing to Venezuelan opposition ahead of anti-Maduro protests

Pence lends US backing to Venezuelan opposition ahead of anti-Maduro protests

By Luke Vargas   
Published
Vice President Mike Pence in a video message targeted at members of the Venezuelan poliitcal opposition. January 22, 2019. Courtesy: President Mike Pence, Twitter
Vice President Mike Pence in a video message targeted at members of the Venezuelan poliitcal opposition. January 22, 2019. Courtesy: President Mike Pence, Twitter

“Nicolas Maduro is a dictator with no legitimate claim to power," Pence said in a video message aimed at the country's resurgent opposition.

UNITED NATIONS – Vice President Mike Pence lashed out at Venezuela’s government on Tuesday, labeling President Nicolás Maduro a “dictator” and praising opposition lawmakers a day ahead of planned demonstrations.

Maduro was sworn in for a new six-year presidential term this month, but his grip on power is anything but certain as he presides over an imploding economy and contends with defiant political challengers.

In 2017, faced with a nagging opposition that controlled Venezuela’s National Assembly, Maduro created another legislature and made sure his supporters were in the majority.

Now the National Assembly is striking back. Led by opposition leader Juan Guiado, the Assembly declared last week that Maduro is illegally usurping power and had lost the legitimacy to govern — a move Pence vocally endorsed.

“The United States stands with all freedom-loving nations in recognizing the National Assembly as the last vestige of democracy in your country, because it is the only body elected by you, the people.”

David Smilde is a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America and warns that Pence’s high-visibility public diplomacy carries risks:

“If the opposition can keep this as a battle between the Venezuelan people and the government, and if they can have a good turnout at the protests tomorrow — well, that could be demoralizing for the government. But when Mike Pence puts out a video like this, this makes it into a conflict between the United States and the Maduro government, and that’s the terrain in which the Maduro government is much more comfortable.”

Case in point: Top Venezuelan officials have already responded to Pence’s video, saying, “Yankee, get out.”

Yet by most accounts the U.S. is only likely to get more involved. Pushed by figures like Sen. Marco Rubio, the White House is reportedly considering recognizing Guiado as Venezuela’s rightful president. That would be a bold step considering Guiado — one of the few Venezuelan opposition figures not in jail — has yet to officially claim power himself.

“If he does it too soon without real support in the population, in the military, well, then it’s just going to backfire and he’ll just get arrested. And if he waits too long, then he might get arrested anyway. So he’s got sort of a window of opportunity. So I think the key here is to let him and the opposition decide when that moment is, and not try to push that from the outside.”

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