U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says of Venezuela's leadership that 'the people have spoken' and they have forcefully rejected President Nicolas Maduro and his regime.
While visiting Paraguay on Saturday, the top U.S. diplomat spoke with Voice of America about the United States' approach to the South American country, which is in a leadership crisis. Pompeo called the election that Maduro claims to have won a 'sham' election, and he noted that 54 nations have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country's true president.
'Maduro and his henchmen have destroyed this nation,' Pompeo said. He said Maduro's missteps were the reason Guaido had been entrusted with the power to 'truly deliver ... democracy and prosperity.'
Questioned about whether Iran has some presence in Latin America, Pompeo said, 'There's no doubt. Iranian money remains in South America ... supporting Hezbollah, supporting transnational criminal organizations, supporting efforts at terrorism throughout the region.' He added, 'We see Iran for what it is: the world's largest state sponsor of terror. That's a global threat.'
He clarified earlier statements about Chinese involvement in South America, saying, 'We want China to thrive and prosper. Here's what we don't want, especially in South America: We don't want China to just show up with bags full of money and bribe officials ... we don't want corrupt activity.'
Explaining the Trump administration's decision to cut funding for Central American countries Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, Pompeo said, 'We saw that those countries weren't doing what needed to be done to prevent this enormous migration challenge, this crisis that the United States has at its southern border.' He said when those countries develop systems to keep their citizens from journeying to the United States border, Washington would reconsider.
And regarding Nicaragua, which is also embroiled in turmoil, Pompeo said, 'We want the Nicaraguan people to have all the great things that they're entitled to, that they so desperately want, and [President Daniel] Ortega and his wife both need to change their ways in order to give Nicaragua that very opportunity.'
Earlier, Pompeo met with the president of Paraguay, Mario Abdo Benitez, for a discussion focusing on Venezuela, human rights, transnational crime and strengthening democracy in the region.
Paraguay's Foreign Minister Luis Castiglioni spoke with reporters Saturday about the meeting between Pompeo and Benitez.
Later in the day, Pompeo was to travel to Peru, and on Sunday he is to continue to the Colombian border town of Cucuta to visit with Venezuelan refugees.
On Friday, Pompeo urged the people of South America to resist offers of investment and aid from U.S. economic competitors China and Russia, saying the United States is a better friend and investment partner to its regional neighbors.
Speaking Friday in Santiago, Chile, Pompeo said the United States believes this is a time of opportunity for South America 'to cement a future of democracy, prosperity, and peace for this hemisphere. ... The chance is ours to seize or squander.'
Pompeo warned that China and Russia, both of whom have invested in South American countries, bring corrosion and corruption to the economy, pointing out a dam project in Ecuador, financed by Chinese money, that has not been successful.
'The dam was supposed to solve Ecuador's energy needs and help lift the country out of poverty,' he said. 'But now the dam runs at half-capacity. ...Nearly every top official involved in the dam's construction is either imprisoned or sentenced on bribery charges.'
He accused Russia of escalating unrest in Venezuela by propping up the regime of Nicolas Maduro and sending soldiers to establish a training center. 'We shouldn't stand for Russia escalating an already precarious situation in these ways,' he said.
He also said Russia has sold arms and opened a police training center in Nicaragua. 'The results of Russia's involvement in Nicaragua, to put it mildly, aren't good,' Pompeo said.
In contrast, Pompeo said the United States is establishing fair trade agreements with South American nations, facilitating regional cooperation, and supporting Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is fighting for control of the nation.
'We'll continue to isolate Maduro,' Pompeo said. 'Just this week the Organization of American States voted to give Juan Guaido's ambassador a seat at the table. This is good news.'
Pompeo said in a television interview with Chile's Mega TV Friday that a U.S. military intervention in Venezuela remains an option. 'We will restore democracy,' he said. 'Juan Guaido is the proper leader of his country. And we'll be with him today, we'll be with him the day that Maduro leaves, and we'll be with him in the days thereafter to begin to rebuild Venezuela.'
Earlier, Pompeo met with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera to discuss bilateral cooperation, regional investment, and the political situations in Venezuela and Nicaragua. Pompeo told reporters the United States will work with Chile and other partners like it to stand up to the Nicaraguan regime.
Regarding Venezuela, Pompeo said the U.S. and its allies, such as Chile, 'will not quit this fight.' He said they will continue to stand up for democracy.