CUCUTA, Colombia — Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is to blame for his country’s economic and humanitarian ruin, and indirectly for a recent drone assassination attempt on him, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley charged Wednesday as she visited a border crossing where newly impoverished Venezuelans stream into Colombia.
Haley announced an additional $9 million in U.S. aid for Venezuelan refugees and migrants in Colombia, beyond some $60 million already committed. The money will go toward water, medical supplies and other immediate needs, Haley said.
“The Maduro regime is doing this to the Venezuelan people,” Haley said.
She spoke at the foot of the Simon Bolivar bridge where about 2,500 Venezuelans cross daily, many of them to receive a hot meal and medical care or to shop for food before returning to Venezuela.
“These are his people, these are the people he should be feeding; these are the people he should be giving medicine to; these are the people he should be giving jobs to and making sure that they have a good quality of life. But instead, he is protecting himself,” Haley said.
Haley is one of the Trump administration’s fiercest critics of the leftist Venezuelan leader and said she wanted to see firsthand the damage he has caused.
Maduro should leave power, Haley said, but she did not call for any U.S. intervention. Other Latin American nations must step in and apply pressure on Maduro, she said, arguing that if the region gives Maduro the cold shoulder other nations and international organizations will follow suit.
“At some point, Maduro is going to have to be dealt with. I have long said that it’s time for Maduro to go,” Haley said.
President Trump has raised the possibility of U.S. military action against Maduro, but the official U.S. policy does not call for U.S.-assisted regime change.
Latin America analysts say U.S. pressure such as Haley’s border visit may draw international attention to the spreading crisis, but may also play to Maduro’s narrative that he and his country are under siege from Washington.
Maduro has blamed Colombia and outside enemies for an apparent assassination attempt Saturday, a charge that both the Colombian and U.S. governments reject as ridiculous.
“He’s been full of excuses for years,” Haley said of the drone attack on Maduro. “He did this by creating this chaos.”
Maduro is the firebrand successor to the late Hugo Chávez and portrays his mission as preserving Chávez’s socialist revolution.
“Venezuela will continue on the democratic, independent and socialist path,” Maduro said following the foiled drone assault.
Colombia has struggled to cope with the region’s largest crush of Venezuelan refugees, estimated at more than 1 million people. New Colombian President Iván Duque, whose inauguration Haley attended Tuesday, is appealing for more international help.
“You look at this oil-rich country, which everyone used to look to as successful,” Haley said of Venezuela, once considered a wealthy and stable Latin American democracy. “And because of Chávez, because of Maduro, we have seen all of that get wiped out.”
The Trump administration has slapped three rounds of sanctions on the Maduro government, the latest in May.
Trump is “passionate” about confronting injustice in Venezuela and committed to helping, Haley said.
The U.S. diplomatic push to get other nations to pin the humanitarian crisis on Maduro is not hampered by criticism from some of those same Latin American leaders of Trump’s treatment of refugees and migrants at the southern U.S. border, Haley said.
“We haven’t gotten any pushback from anyone because they realize we are doing a lot to help the Venezuelan people,” Haley said. “What I said to them was, when we were being loud about Venezuela a year ago, they were being quiet. And maybe had they done something we’d be in a different situation.”