‘End this nightmare,’ Pompeo urges U.N. member nations on Venezuela’s political crisis

Pompeo: Maduro has oppressed Venezuelans for years

Venezuela's political showdown on Jan. 26, 2019 moved to the United Nations where US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed his administration's support of the country's self-declared interim leader Juan Guaidó.
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Venezuela's political showdown on Jan. 26, 2019 moved to the United Nations where US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed his administration's support of the country's self-declared interim leader Juan Guaidó.

Presenting the Trump administration’s case on Venezuela before the United Nations Security Council, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo minced no words calling out Cuba as the foreign power meddling in Venezuela and propping up what Pompeo called the “illegitimate mafia state” of Nicolás Maduro’s regime.

“End this nightmare. No excuses,” Pompeo said Saturday during a special meeting of the U.N. Security Council. He called on the U.N.’s member nations to choose sides in the political showdown that has pitted backers of Maduro against supporters of the internationally recognized interim President Juan Guaidó.

“No regime has done more to sustain the nightmarish condition of the Venezuelan people than the regime in Havana,” Pompeo said. “Cuban security and intelligence thugs, invited into Venezuela by Maduro himself and those around him, have sustained this illegitimate rule. ... Cuba has directly made matters worse.”

Noting the protracted humanitarian crisis that has forced more than three million Venezuelans to flee the country and relegated those who remain to starvation — without basic utilities and services and no hope for economic prosperity — Pompeo posed an ultimatum for the U.N.’s member nations.

“Either you stand with the forces of freedom,” he said, “or you’re in league with Maduro and his mayhem.”

Nearly three hours after Pompeo spoke, Cuba’s envoy to the U.N., Anayansi Rodríguez Camejo, accused the U.S. Secretary of State of “an undignified assault on the truth.”

“It is fake news,” Camejo said of accusations that Venezuela had become a satellite of Cuba.

Venezuela’s foreign minister, speaking before Camejo, leveled a passionate attack against the United States and its European allies, accusing the Trump administration of following a tradition of American interventionism in Latin America.

“The United States is not behind the coup d’état,” said Jorge Arreaza, the Venezuelan representative. “It is in advance. It’s in the vanguard of the coup d’état. It is dictating orders, not only to the Venezuelan opposition but also to the satellite governments in the region and, it seems, in Europe and the other parts of the world.”

As evidence, Arreaza pointed to Twitter and other social media messages posted by President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Sen. Marco Rubio and others recognizing Guaidó as the interim president of Venezuela and calling on that nation’s military to abandon the Maduro regime.

Arreaza also accused fellow Latin American nations, including Argentina, Chile, Colombia and others, of taking their cues from Trump via Twitter.

“They were waiting for the order, and as soon as the order was given they started recognizing” Guaidó as the interim president of Venezuela, he said. “It’s too obvious. It’s too shameless. You can see the evidence everywhere of this coup d’état. ... It should be condemned.”

The newly appointed U.S. envoy leading the Trump administration’s efforts in Venezuela was quick to respond. Elliott Abrams, a veteran of past presidential administrations, said Arreaza was insulting the countries represented at the U.N. Security Council meeting by calling them “satellites” of the United States.

“It was interesting that every single country that was attacked or criticized was a democracy,” Abrams said in response to Arreaza. “Every single one that you criticized was a democracy. It was just a series of insults that reflect the fact that today there is a satellite present here and it is Venezuela, which unfortunately has become a satellite of Cuba and Russia.”

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused the U.S. of a long history of meddling in other nations’ politics, citing as examples the U.S.-financed Nicaraguan rebels and the Iran contra affair, the failed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, and the overthrow of Chile’s former Marxist leader, Salvador Allende.

“Venezuela is just another chapter in the U.S.’s long history of meddling,” Nebenzia said.

Nebenzia also accused National Security Advisor John Bolton of making a “Bolshevik-style declaration” that the U.S. would “appropriate” Venezuelan assets and accused the U.S. of meddling in Venezuela’s elections.

Referencing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. elections, he said the Trump administration had interfered in Venezuela’s presidential election in May.

“There’s enough evidence,” he said, “that on a number of opposition candidates [in Venezuela’s presidential elections], the strongest pressure was exerted so they would withdraw their candidacies and not compete.”

Nebenzia accused the U.S. and its allies of “implementing a plan to overthrow” Maduro, adding that the intervention included “prominent members” of the U.S. Congress.

China’s envoy also spoke in favor of Maduro, though with less caustic language against the U.S. Ma Zhaoxu said China supports “efforts made by the Venezuelan government to uphold sovereignty, independence and stability” and urged the U.N.’s member nations to “abide by principles of the United Nations charter, especially norms governing international relations and principles of international law, such as no interference in each other’s internal affairs.”

Germany was the first to answer Pompeo’s call, with its envoy to the U.N., Christoph Heusgen, stating that Germany now recognizes Guaidó as the interim president of Venezuela.

British envoy Alan Duncan stopped just short of recognizing Guaidó, stating that unless Maduro calls for elections within eight days the United Kingdom would recognize Guaidó.

The representative of France, Anne Gueguen, also said that if a new presidential election is not announced within the next eight days, the European nation will recognize Guiadó as the legitimate ruler of Venezuela.

“Nicolás Maduro must understand that this is his last opportunity and he must take it,” she said.

Spain also has said it will recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the interim president of Venezuela if Maduro’s government doesn’t hold new presidential elections.

Pompeo’s presentation was nearly derailed when a procedural vote won just enough support to allow the meeting to proceed.

The U.S., which called the meeting, received the minimum nine “yes” votes to hold Saturday’s meeting on the situation in Venezuela, with four countries voting “no” and two abstaining.

Russian ambassador Nebenzia opposed the meeting, saying Venezuela does not represent a threat to international peace and security. Instead, he said, the country is facing a U.S. effort “to attempt a coup d’etat in the country.”

Pompeo was the first to speak. He cited China, Russia, Syria and Iran as four nations that stand with Maduro, and accused them of propping up Maduro’s regime in the hope of recouping billions in failed investments that Pompeo said had gone to line the pockets of Venezuela’s Socialist leader and his supporters.

“It’s not a surprise,” Pompeo said, “that those who refuse to allow democracy in their own countries support Maduro.”

Immediately after Pompeo’s speech, the United Kingdom’s representative tore into Maduro’s regime, too.

“Children are starving ... essential items are absent from bare shelves of bankrupt stores, and millions have fled to neighboring countries,” he said, urging the U.N.’s member nations to support Guaidó and reject Maduro.

Duncan, the British minister for Europe and the Americas, called the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela “entirely the creation of one man and his cronies.

“The ranting socialism of Nicolás Maduro has destroyed an entire country,” he said, “and despite his self-congratulatory moral posturing his enduring legacy will be not to have just made the poor poorer but destitute.”

Words of support for Maduro’s regime came first from representatives of South Africa and Equatorial Guinea, Jerry Matjila and Anatolio Ndong Mba, respectively, who urged “due process” and called on nations to consider what would follow if Maduro were removed.

Prospects for united action are uncertain. Saturday’s meeting ended without a vote or resolution.

Among the five permanent members with veto power, France and Britain have set an eight-day deadline for calling elections or they will recognize Guaidó’s leadership. China has called for calm and argued against interfering in Venezuela’s internal affairs, and Russia has denounced the administration.

At Saturday’s meeting, Nebenzia asked Pompeo about the U.S. taking military action in Venezuela. Pompeo declined to answer and left the nearly five-hour Security Council meeting before it ended.

Addressing the media on Saturday, Pompeo, who earlier announced $20 million in humanitarian aid to Venezuela, declined to specify the Trump administration’s next steps but signaled the the U.S. would not act alone.

“There’ll be much more to do,” Pompeo said, according to a transcript of his statements issued by the State Department. “We’ll call upon other nations. We will join with them to create development and humanitarian assistance projects.

“This is the first step of what we hope will be real progress here at the United Nations,” he said. “We think every member of the United Nations ought to join in support of Venezuelan people, so we will continue to work to get more and more support.”

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Daniel Chang covers health care for the Miami Herald, where he works to untangle the often irrational world of health insurance, hospitals and health policy for readers.