US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday wrapped up a three-day tour of Venezuela’s neighbors designed to heap pressure on President Nicolas Maduro, saying his malign influence in the region “cannot be tolerated.”
Pompeo held talks in Bogota with Colombia’s right-wing President Ivan Duque, calling the US ally “a true leader for the region” and lauding his stance against Maduro.
Duque’s support “of Interim President Juan Guaido” and “a sovereign Venezuela free of the malign influences of Cuba and Russia and Iran is incredibly valuable,” the US official said.
Flanked by Pompeo after their talks at Bogota’s Casa de Narino presidential palace, Duque called on the international community to prosecute Maduro following a UN report that said the Venezuelan leader and his inner circle were responsible for probable crimes against humanity.
– Prosecute Maduro –
Duque said it showed “that this is a regime behind violations of human rights that are systematic, and that the head of this dictatorship is a criminal against humanity and the international community must put an end to the situation.”
Caracas has dismissed the 411-page UN Human Rights Council report as “riddled with falsehoods.”
The Colombian president spoke in Spanish, but the official English translation of his comments referred to Maduro as a “war criminal.”
Pompeo said the US would continue to support Colombia, adding that violence on the part of guerrilla groups like FARC dissidents, the ELN “or any other terrorist or criminal group is unacceptable.”
“It cannot be tolerated nor can the actions of regimes like Maduro’s which provides safe haven and a deep comfort to those terrorists,” he said.
– ‘Desperate’ refugees –
Pompeo arrived in Bogota late Friday after visiting a center for Venezuelan refugees in the Brazilian border town of Boa Vista, emphasizing the plight of nearly five million Venezuelans who had fled their country’s economic meltdown under Maduro.
“Those people I talked to today are desperate to return home,” he said of the refugees being processed at the center — among the estimated 260,000 Venezuelans who have fled to Brazil.
Pompeo called Maduro “a leader who’s destroyed his own country, a man-made disaster of massive proportions,” as well as “a drug trafficker” — referring to charges the US Justice Department filed against Maduro and his inner circle earlier this year.
The US top diplomat said on Friday that Maduro “has to leave” power.
That drew a furious accusation of “war-mongering” from the Venezuelan leader, who said Pompeo “has failed in all his attempts to get the governments of the continent to organize themselves in a war against Venezuela.”
The US and some 50 other countries view Maduro’s 2018 reelection as fraudulent and demand the restoration of democracy in the South American country.
However, Maduro has steadfastly refused to back down and retains the support of the armed forces, as well as key allies Russia and Iran.
Pompeo began his three-day South American trip on Thursday in Suriname and Guyana, small undeveloped countries on the northeastern shoulder of the continent where the discovery of oil has piqued sudden global interest.
He urged the fast-growing nations to pick US over Chinese firms to partner in their development.
Both countries are also being eagerly courted by China as they seek foreign investment to bring potentially massive oil wealth ashore.
“We’ve watched the Chinese Communist Party invest in countries, and it all seems great at the front end and then it all comes falling down when the political costs connected to that becomes clear,” Pompeo said.
“And we do our level best wherever I travel to make the case for just making sure everybody understands what they’re getting into.”
Pompeo flew out of Bogota on Saturday for the five-hour flight to Dallas, Texas, where he will conclude his trip with a stop at an Evangelical mega-church.