Mike Pence in Bogota to discuss ways to oust Venezuela’s Maduro

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Venezuelan migrants near the Simon Bolivar International Bridge plead for people to support them with food and water so they can continue protesting in La Parada near Cucuta, Colombia, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019, on the border with Venezuela. A U.S.-backed drive to deliver foreign aid to Venezuela on Saturday met strong resistance as troops loyal to President Nicolas Maduro blocked the convoys at the border and fired tear gas on protesters. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

The United States is planning new ways to pressure Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to give up power and other means to provide assistance to the people of the economically devastated South American nation after a weekend effort failed to deliver aid.

Vice President Mike Pence arrived in the Colombian capital and headed immediately into a meeting with Colombian President Ivan Duque. Pence will also meet with members of a regional coalition and Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido to discuss the next steps aimed at ousting Maduro.

A senior administration official said Pence is expected to announce “clear actions” as he speaks to members of the Lima Group, a coalition of more than a dozen nations organized to address the crisis in Venezuela.

Pence’s appearance before the Lima Group comes two days after a U.S.-backed effort to deliver humanitarian across the border from Colombia ended in violence, with forces loyal to Maduro firing tear gas and buckshot on activists accompanying the supplies and setting the material on fire. Two people were killed and at least 300 wounded.

For weeks, the U.S. and regional allies had been amassing emergency food and medical kits on Venezuela’s borders in anticipation of carrying out a “humanitarian avalanche” by land and sea to undermine Maduro’s rule.

Guaido, who has been recognized as interim president by the U.S. and 50 other governments who say Maduro’s re-election last year was illegitimate, has called on the international community to consider “all options” to resolve Venezuela’s crisis. A close ally, Julio Borges, the opposition ambassador to the Lima Group, was more explicit Sunday, urging the use of force against Maduro’s government. But U.S. officials have avoided talk of military action.

The administration official said the U.S. plans to bring “the full measure of its economic and diplomatic weight to bear on this issue.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in interviews on “Fox News Sunday” and CNN’s “State of the Union,” did not rule out U.S. military force but said “there are more sanctions to be had.”

But any additional sanctions will increase the suffering of the Venezuelan people and may lead to more political violence, said Mark Weisbrot, the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, who advocates a negotiated end to the political crisis.

“The ‘humanitarian aid’ this weekend was a public relations stunt, since the aid was just a tiny fraction of the food and medicine that they are depriving Venezuelans of with the sanctions,” Weisbrot said. “As the Trump administration admitted, it was an attempt to get the Venezuelan military to disobey Maduro. It was a farce, and it failed.”

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