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Pence hits Venezuela with new sanctions, promises 'even stronger' measures ahead

The new sanctions target four governors in Venezuela for "endemic corruption" and "blocking the delivery of critical humanitarian aid."
Image: Venezuelan migrants plead for aid as they protest in Cucuta, Colombia, on Feb. 24, 2019.
Venezuelan migrants plead for aid as they protest in Cucuta, Colombia, on Feb. 24, 2019. A U.S.-backed effort to deliver foreign aid to Venezuela was met with resistance from troops under President Nicolas Maduro.Fernando Vergara / AP

MIAMI — Vice President Mike Pence on Monday announced new sanctions against Venezuelan government officials and called on allies to freeze the assets of the state-owned oil company after a deadly weekend in which U.S. aid was blocked from entering the crisis-stricken country.

Pence was in the Colombian capital, Bogotá, meeting with Venezuelan opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, and members of the Lima Group — a 14-nation regional coalition that includes most Latin American countries and Canada.

The sanctions announced Monday target four governors in Venezuela for "endemic corruption" and "blocking the delivery of critical humanitarian aid," according to a statement by the Treasury Department.

Pence called on Lima Group nations to immediately freeze the assets of Venezuela's state oil company, PDVSA, and transfer ownership of the assets in their countries to Guaidó.

Pence said the U.S. will stand by Guaidó until freedom is restored and promised tougher measures against the oil-rich nation soon.

"In the days ahead ... the United States will announce even stronger sanctions on the regime's corrupt financial networks," Pence said. "We will work with all of you to find every last dollar that they stole and work to return it to Venezuela."

Pence also said the U.S. is sending another $56 million to Venezuela's neighbors to help them cope with the influx of migrants from Venezuela. Over 3 million Venezuelans have fled their country's turmoil in recent years. The U.S. has already provided $139 million to the neighboring countries.

Pence's appearance before the Lima Group comes two days after U.S.-backed aid convoys attempted to enter Venezuela to deliver food and medicine. The resulting protests and clashes with forces loyal to Maduro left at least two people dead and 300 wounded.

The U.S. and regional allies had sent emergency food and medical kits and positioned them on Venezuela's borders weeks in advance. Maduro has rejected most offers of humanitarian assistance and has said the aid efforts are part of a U.S.-orchestrated coup against him.

During Monday's meeting, Guaidó, who was sitting next to Pence, asked for a moment of silence for those who were killed over the weekend. The room they were in was decorated with a large painting of Latin American independence hero Simon Bolivar.

“It’s time to do more,” Pence said in a speech to the group. “The day is coming soon when Venezuela’s long nightmare will end, when Venezuela will once more be free, when her people will see a new birth of freedom, in a nation reborn to libertad.”

Pence reiterated that "all options are on the table" — a phrase that has been repeated by Trump administration officials since the U.S. recognized Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela in January.

Guaidó has adopted similar language and urged the Lima Group to consider "all options" in ousting Maduro.

But both Guaidó and Trump administration officials have stopped of calling for U.S. troops on the ground.

Maduro still controls institutions, including the military, which experts think is instrumental in maintaining Maduro in power. Maduro has the backing of Russia, China, and Cuba.

Guaidó, has been recognized as interim president by the U.S. and 50 other nations who say the re-election of Maduro last year was a sham.