WASHINGTON — The Trump administration for the first time Tuesday called for regime change in Venezuela, charging that the “systematic oppression” by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has become an “active threat” to the entire Latin American region.
“For the safety and the security of all people in Latin America, it is time for Maduro to go,” Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the 48th Annual Washington Conference on the Americas at the State Department.
Haley is the first member of the Trump administration to officially call for Maduro to step down. Her message came as the administration announced plans, first reported by McClatchy, to provide an additional $18.5 million in humanitarian aid for Venezuelan refugees who have fled into Colombian border towns.
The money, provided through the U.S. Agency for International Development, will be directed toward school feeding programs, mobile health services and other programs that help the Colombian government collect data to track the Venezuelans’ progress and provide targeted aid to vulnerable groups, such as children who are at risk of exploitation and recruitment by criminal organizations.
“This makes clear that our problems are not with the Venezuelan people. It is with the despots running the country,” Mark Green, USAID administrator, told McClatchy in an interview. “On one hand we’re compassionate and concerned with the long-suffering Venezuelan people. But on the other hand we also recognize that to be truly compassionate the best thing we can do is to continue to put pressure on the Maduro regime and hopefully to change behavior.”
Haley did not explain how to get Maduro out, but said that the United States can’t back down from its effort to bring change to the country. The crisis “demands the attention” of the world, she said. And the United States needs the support of U.S. partners to address what has become the “the largest displacement of people in the region’s history.”
“The brothers and sisters of the region, while they like to keep their problems in the family, they have to acknowledge they have one that has gone astray,” Haley said.
Haley’s call for new leadership along with the humanitarian aid reflects a two-pronged approach the administration appears to be taking to isolate the Caracas regime while helping Venezuelans who are fleeing the struggling government.
The United States has slapped financial sanctions on Maduro and more than 50 current and former senior Venezuelan officials, blocked U.S. companies from investing in Venezuelan companies and cut off the so-called “Petro,” a form of Venezuelan cryptocurrency, from the United States’ financial system
“This is something that we’re going to continue to be loud about,” Haley said. “We cannot be quiet about this.”
At the same time the administration has announced early $40 million in humanitarian aid since March. Administration officials say the aid highlights the need for the international community to step in to address how Maduro has failed to provide for his own people.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 1.5 million displaced Venezuelans have spread across the region. More than 600,000 Venezuelans have fled across the border into Colombia.
In his speech to the Organization of American States Monday, Vice President Mike Pence called on Venezuela to suspend its “sham” elections on May 20 and allow international aid inside the country.
“So today, we say to Nicolas Maduro and his entire regime: The time has come to open Venezuela to international aid, and do it now,” Pence said. “ Every day you don’t — every day you don’t is another day innocent people starve and die — men, women and children — and millions flee your country for a better life.”
But Maduro has so far rejected such offers while downplaying the crisis. He accuses the United States of attempting to undermine his government.
Green said he is committed to drawing more attention to the crisis inside Venezuela and the repercussions outside.
And it’s not just a humanitarian issue for the United States, Green said. There are strategic repercussions as well as it hurts U.S. allies, causes migration and disrupts the flow of commerce.
“When you have this kind of destabilizing crisis occurring not so far from our borders, it can’t help but have impacts,” Green said.