The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Pompeo presses U.N. Security Council to ‘pick a side’ in Venezuela’s crisis

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the United Nations to “pick a side” and support the transitional government in Venezuela. (Jason Szenes/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday urged the United Nations Security Council to “pick a side” in Venezuela between freedom and mayhem in what he denounced as the “illegitimate mafia state” overseen by President Nicolás Maduro.

“No more delays, no more games,” he said in a relatively rare appearance at an emergency meeting of the Security Council called by the United States. “Either you stand with the forces of freedom, or you’re in league with Maduro and his mayhem.”

The lengthy session underscored the deep divisions in the United Nations over Venezuela. Maduro’s allies repeatedly accused Washington of attempting a coup d’etat in Caracas, characterizing it as the latest in a string of U.S. interventions in Latin America dating back more than a century.

It also highlighted the acrimonious state of U.S. relations with Russia and China, two countries that Pompeo accused of “propping up a failed regime in the hopes of recovering billions of dollars in ill-considered investments and assistance made over the years.”

But any statement or resolution from the Security Council was doomed from the start, and the meeting ended with no vote taken. The ambassadors of Russia and China, both permanent members of the Security Council with veto power, said they considered the political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela an internal matter and urged the United States to stop meddling.

“If anything represents a threat to peace and security, it is the shameless and aggressive actions of the United States and their allies to oust a legitimately elected president of Venezuela,” said Moscow’s envoy, Vasily Nebenzya, who accused Washington of trying “to engineer a coup d’etat in Venezuela.”

Pressure mounts on Maduro as European Union demands new elections

The United States has recognized the opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, as president and is ignoring Maduro’s expulsion of all U.S. diplomats, though it has withdrawn unessential staff and families. The Treasury Department has said it will follow that policy in all commercial transactions involving Venezuela, suggesting it is preparing to divert to Guaidó and his government oil revenue and frozen assets under sanction. U.S. officials now refer to Maduro as the “former president.”

Europe has not followed suit yet, though several European nations and the European Union said Saturday they also will recognize Guaidó as president if Maduro does not call new elections within eight days. Maduro was inaugurated to a second term on Jan. 10 after winning an election many observers considered rigged.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza shook his head and looked skyward as if in disbelief during remarks by Pompeo and Elliott Abrams, the newly appointed U.S. envoy on Venezuela.

Waving printouts of a series of tweets from President Trump and Vice President Pence, Arreaza asked, “Do you want to trigger a civil war in Venezuela? You won’t do it.”

The United States and its allies, he said, “are going to try to start a new war in Latin America. In Venezuela. We are not going to give them that satisfaction.”

Arreaza also took a swipe at Abrams, noting that he had pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the Reagan administration’s support for contra rebels fighting the government in Nicaragua, though he was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush.

Abrams, seated at the table after Pompeo departed early, noted that every criticism came from a country that is not democratic. And he accused Venezuela of being a “satellite” of Cuba and Russia.

“This is not about foreign intervention in Venezuela,” he said, “It is not an attempt to impose a result on the Venezuelan people. Democracy never needs to be imposed. It is tyranny that has to be imposed.”

Pompeo, speaking to reporters after he left the Security Council, said the $20 million in food and medical aid the United States pledged to provide to the Venezuelan people once it can be delivered, is just an initial effort.

“Got a whole nation starving, massive malnutrition, refugees fleeing,” he said. “This is an international crisis to be sure. And nations like Cuba and Russia and China have shamefully cast their lot in support of the former president. They don’t have the best interests of the Venezuelan people at heart.”