Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro at the National Pantheon in Caracas on Wednesday. (Miraflores Palace/Reuters)

Vice President Pence is in Latin America this week on a tour aimed at encouraging regional pressure on Venezuela to resolve its economic and humanitarian crises, and he had some harsh words for Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

On a stop in Brazil on Wednesday, Pence addressed displaced Venezuelans at a shelter in Manaus. “The Maduro regime has violently suppressed those who question or criticize their reign,” Pence said, mentioning political prisoners, the gunning-down of protesters and “the government's vicious gangs.” He added, "So many of you have experienced and seen firsthand the extraordinary, heartbreaking, devastating impact of dictatorship on your homeland in Venezuela."

[The mass exodus of desperate Venezuelans is overwhelming its neighbors]

The U.S. vice president's criticism was not lost on Maduro, who shot back later in the day in a speech broadcast on television.

“Every time the poisonous viper Mike Pence opens his mouth, I feel stronger,” the socialist leader said. “We have defeated you, and we are going to defeat [you] wherever you are.”

Venezuela is suffering from a devastating economic collapse that has led to a humanitarian crisis. Hyperinflation and shortages of food and health care have forced masses of Venezuelans to flee to neighboring countries.

[A historic exodus is leaving Venezuela without teachers, doctors and electricians]

The United States placed another round of sanctions on Venezuela in May after accusing Maduro of orchestrating a “sham” presidential election. This month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for Venezuela to be suspended from the Organization of American States, and Pence referred to the country as “a failed state.” The European Union this month imposed sanctions on almost a dozen Venezuelan officials, including Vice President Delcy Rodríguez.

Last year, President Trump said he would not rule out a “military option” to deal with Venezuela.

On Thursday, Pence was slated to meet with the presidents of Guatemala and Honduras, as well as his counterpart from El Salvador. Those meetings were likely to focus largely on migration to the United States.

During his remarks Wednesday, Pence warned his audience against crossing the border into the United States illegally.

“Don’t risk your lives or the lives of your children by trying to come to the United States on the road run by drug smugglers and human traffickers,” Pence said. “If you can’t come legally, don’t come at all.”

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