Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday said the United States would consider sanctions relief for Venezuelan officials who break ranks with President Nicolás Maduro and announced the lifting of sanctions against a general who did so last week.
Pence announced that the United States was removing sanctions on Venezuelan Gen. Manuel Cristopher Figuera, the former chief of the country’s intelligence service, “effective immediately,” during a speech at the Conference on the Americas at the State Department in Washington.
The U.S. “will consider sanctions relief for all those who step forward, stand up for the constitution and support the rule of law,” Pence said.
The U.S. has sanctioned more than 150 government officials and state-owned businesses loyal to Maduro.
The Treasury Department released a statement after Pence’s remarks, saying the “delisting of Cristopher also shows the good faith of the United States that removal of sanctions may be available for designated persons who take concrete and meaningful actions to restore democratic order, refuse to take part in human rights abuses, speak out against abuses committed by the illegitimate Maduro regime, or combat corruption in Venezuela.”
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Pence said during his remarks that he encouraged others to follow the general’s example.
He also said the South American country’s Supreme Court had become a “political tool” for Maduro’s regime.
“It’s time for the Supreme Court in Venezuela to return to its founding purpose,” Pence said. “If the Supreme Court of Venezuela does not return to its constitutional mandate to uphold the rule of law, the United States of America will hold all 25 of its magistrates accountable for their actions.”
The vice president also announced the Navy hospital ship the USNS Comfort will be deployed to the Caribbean, Central America and South America in June for a five-month mission to address the “crisis” in Venezuela.
Pence’s remarks come after a failed attempt from opposition leader Juan Guiadó to oust Maduro from power and calls for the military to defect from the embattled president in two days of demonstrations and clashes that left at least four dead. In the end, the majority of the military appeared to stand with Maduro and he remains in power.
The U.S. and more than 50 other countries recognize Guiadó as Venezuela's interim president following Maduro's re-election in an election they view as illegitimate.
During his remarks, Pence said that "the safety and security of President Juan Guiadó and his family are a priority of the United States of America."
Maduro decried the latest attempt as a failed "coup," rallied his own supporters and called those behind the uprising "traitors." He has also said that Guiadó is a puppet of the United States.
Also on Tuesday, Venezuela's Supreme Court opened a criminal investigation into seven opposition lawmakers following the uprising attempt, according to The Associated Press.
The lawmakers are suspected of “betraying the homeland” and “instigating an insurrection,” among other charges, the nation’s highest court said, according to the AP.