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In neighboring Colombia, Pence will call for Venezuela's Maduro to step down

Trump calls for Venezuela's Maduro to go

Washington — Vice President Michael Pence will call for the ouster of embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro next week during a high-profile visit to Colombia, a staunch U.S. ally which shares a border with Venezuela and has taken in more than a million refugees from its crisis-stricken neighbor.

Pence will travel to Colombia on Feb. 25 to reiterate the American government's support for National Assembly President Juan Guaidó, which the U.S. and dozens of countries have recognized as Venezuela's interim president. The vice president, who has been one of the leading spokespersons for the Trump administration's crackdown on Maduro's increasingly-authoritarian government, is also scheduled to speak before representatives of nations in the "Lima group," a coalition formed by Latin American governments to address the dire humanitarian and political turmoil in Venezuela.

"The struggle in Venezuela is between dictatorship and democracy, and freedom has the momentum. Juan Guaido is the only legitimate leader of Venezuela, and it's time for Nicolas Maduro to go," the vice president's spokesperson Alyssa Farah said in a statement. "The United States is proud to join the Lima Group and other global partners to marshal our resources, provide much needed humanitarian relief, and stand together with the people of Venezuela until democracy and freedom are fully restored." 

The vice president's visit to Bogotá, Colombia's capital, will come during a crucial moment in the ongoing political standoff in Venezuela. Guaidó has set a Feb. 23 deadline for the tons of food and medicine supplies that have been stockpiled in the Colombian border town of Cúcuta to be allowed into Venezuela. Though Guaido has said he has made provisions to transport the supplies once they're allowed into the country, it's not clear what he would do, should that deadline come and go without being acted upon.

Maduro has denounced the humanitarian aid from the U.S. and other nations as a political ploy to humiliate the Venezuelan people, and his government has blocked the main highways near the border with Colombia to prevent it from coming in. But Guaidó and his diplomats believe Venezuela's top military leaders, who have remained loyal to Maduro, will face a critical choice: enforce Maduro's orders to stop international humanitarian assistance — or defect and allow the aid to reach a Venezuelan population grappling with food and medicine shortages and a devastated economy.

Along with recognizing Guaidó and issuing sweeping sanctions against the largest state-owned oil company, the Trump administration has pledged more than $20 million in humanitarian assistance to the Venezuelan people. 

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