Pence: No way we stand by as Venezuela collapses, but …
“Venezuela is collapsing into dictatorship,” Vice President Mike Pence said in response to media questions about Donald Trump’s mention of a “military option” for the Chavista regime. Pence tried to emphasize that the US has “many options for Venezuela,” but are focusing on peaceful approaches with Venezuela’s neighbors as the best solution for the crisis in Caracas. However, in a likely allusion to the threat against Marco Rubio, Pence made it clear that any threat to the security of the US would result in quick and decisive action:
Pence vowed to increase economic and diplomatic pressure on Venezuela and work with Colombia and other regional democracies to isolate the government of President Nicolás Maduro. He also sought to reassure the region after President Trump warned last week of a “possible military option” in Venezuela, a comment that stoked anti-American sentiment by reviving dark memories of U.S. interventionism on the continent.
“Venezuela is sliding into dictatorship, and as President Trump has said, the United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles,” Pence said.
Noting that the United States reserves “many options for Venezuela,” Pence added, “President Trump is a leader who says what he means and means what he says, but the president sent me here to continue to marshal the unprecedented support of countries across Latin America to achieve by peaceable means the restoration of democracy in Latin America, and we believe it is achievable by those means.”
Part of Pence’s mission in addressing this was to dial down the rhetoric after Trump’s suggestion that military force might be used to remove Maduro. The Venezuelan dictator had wasted no time in seizing on those comments to shore up his political position at home, and possibly in the region:
President Nicolás Maduro’s backers were using Trump’s statement from Friday as a tool to unite Venezuelans — and the rest of Latin America — against what they perceive as a common enemy.
Félix Seijas Rodríguez, director of the Delphos polling firm, estimated that less than 10 percent of Venezuelans would support military intervention in the country.
“We reject the cowardly, insolent, and vile threats of the President of the United States against the sacred sovereignty of Venezuela,” tweeted Delcy Rodríguez, Maduro’s former foreign minister. She is now president of the new, all-powerful and pro-government Constituent Assembly created by a controversial vote last month that has been decried by opponents and foreign governments as fraudulent.
“Trump’s is the gravest and most insolent threat ever voiced against the homeland of Bolívar,” tweeted Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas.
The real-world consequences for Venezuela’s opposition to Maduro were made even more obvious this afternoon:
“President” should really be in scare quotes at this point. Maduro and his henchmen would use anti-American propaganda even if Trump had never opened his mouth. However, the threat of US military action in Latin America would immediately generate hostility and opposition throughout the region, making for a political headache for friendlier governments who want to put pressure on Maduro to step down. Mexico’s Vicente Fox, who wants Maduro out too but is no fan of Trump either, slapped back Saturday over those remarks:
That’s what Pence needs to unravel in Colombia. He’s walking a tightrope between supporting his boss and backing away from the threat of Yanquí conquest. That might take more than one trip to accomplish.