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‘Time is short to get Maduro to leave’ power in Venezuela, Pompeo says

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks about human rights in Iran at the State Department on Dec. 19, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images/TNS)

The United States has not seen signs that Venezuelan ruler Nicolás Maduro is willing to allow free elections to resolve the political crisis in that country, and “time is short” to get him to leave, the top U.S. diplomat said Thursday in an exclusive interview with el Nuevo Herald and the Miami Herald.

“We have not seen any indication, in spite of many conversations that other people around the world have had with those parameters, that he is prepared to permit there would be free and fair elections in Venezuela,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “That is the standard we demand, and we are going to continue to work to achieve that.”

Recently, Maduro told The Washington Post that he wanted directed talks with the U.S.

Pompeo said that he expected European governments to take a tougher stance on Venezuela because “they understand that the time is short to get Maduro to leave.”

Amid the political and humanitarian crisis that has consumed Venezuela last year, the Trump administration has tried to pressure Maduro to negotiate his exit, and it was even willing to offer guarantees that he would not be prosecuted if he left power. But a series of sanctions against the oil sector and some 100 officials, as well as an attempt to get the military to turn its back on Maduro, have failed.

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A year after Juan Guaidó, the president of the National Assembly, invoked the constitution to assume the interim presidency with U.S. support and recognition by almost 60 countries, Maduro remains in power. The United States continues to bet on international sanctions and increased pressure. But a Plan B is not in sight.

“We are doing everything possible to deny the Venezuelan regime the resources and the capabilities to continue to impose tyranny on the Venezuelan people; and trying to support the Venezuelan democracy movement together with all our allies in the region,” and the European countries, Pompeo said.

“All we ask is a bill for free and fair elections,” he added. “We’re confident that when the Venezuelan people get that, we can begin to rebuild this once great democracy and its economy.”

But frustration with the lack of progress is building up, especially in South Florida, home to the largest Venezuelan community in the nation.

To somewhat address such feelings, Pompeo participated in a round-table discussion on Thursday with Venezuelan exiles in Doral, hosted by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Speaking to reporters, DeSantis praised Pompeo and the administration for “focusing on the substance rather than the timing” of Maduro’s departure. “But I wouldn’t have called him down here if we weren’t a little frustrated that we hadn’t seen any progress with it.

“As long as he’s (Maduro) got the military, he is going to have a certain amount of power in there.,” DeSantis said. “That’s just the reality of the situation.”

Pompeo stopped in Miami following a tour to Germany and several Latin America and Caribbean countries. On Monday in Bogotá, Pompeo met with Guaidó, who secretly traveled to Colombia on Sunday. The opposition leader then went to Europe and asked the European Union parliament for more sanctions against the Maduro regime.

Guaidó “is strong; he is building out his support throughout the country,” Pompeo said.

There is speculation that Guaidó may travel to the United States and even meet with Trump, but Pompeo did not confirm the information, saying only: “We’ll see.”

He added that the Maduro regime “understands very well” that arresting Guaidó upon his return to Venezuela — or any other senior leaders of the National Assembly — would be seen by the U.S. and the European Union as “a very serious attack on the freedoms and rights of the Venezuelan people.”

Pompeo did not give details about future sanctions against the governments of Russia and Cuba, which he accuses of supporting Maduro. Still, he said the administration continues to study “very closely” how the money flows to the Maduro regime.

“He’s now running something that looks more like a drug cartel than a real government,” he said.

The U.S. has also launched a “maximum pressure” campaign against the Cuban government, which US officials believe is providing critical security and intelligence support to Maduro.

Recently, the administration limited regular and chartered flights to Cuba as a way to cut the government’s sources of revenue. But many fear that the measure will only affect families on both sides of the Florida Straits.

Pompeo said the administration’s intention was precisely the opposite.

“Our mission is to do our best and not to harm the Cuban people, indeed, just the opposite of that, to create a space where there is an opportunity for democracy and freedom,” he said. “At the same time, the policies of the previous administration were putting lots of money in the pockets of the regime.”

Pompeo traveled to Colombia this week to participate in a ministerial meeting on anti-terrorism efforts focused on Venezuela.

At the meeting, Pompeo and other leaders of the region said that the Maduro regime offers refuge to Hezbollah operatives, dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the National Liberation Army, all considered terrorist groups by the United States.

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© 2020 Miami Herald

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.