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Pence Meets With Opposition Leader Juan Guaido


Today in Bogota, Colombia, Vice President Mike Pence met with the man the U.S. hopes will replace Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. That's Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido. Pence and Guaido met after a dramatic weekend on the Venezuelan border with Colombia. Volunteers tried to bring food and medicine into the country. The military shot and killed at least four people. Two aid trucks were torched. Many people were tear-gassed.

Today Pence and Guaido called on Venezuela's military to join the opposition. They hinted at military intervention if the military refuses. Reporter John Otis is in Bogota and joins us now. Hi, John.


SHAPIRO: This weekend's actions by Juan Guaido seem to be a big gamble, trying to get aid across the border in hopes that there would be mass defections from the military. Those defections did not materialize. So what did he and the U.S. vice president suggest could be the next move here?

OTIS: Well, when the two men met, Pence suggested that it may very well be a long, hard slog to bring about regime change in Venezuela. Pence announced some new sanctions against four Venezuelan state governors who the U.S. blames for promoting some of the violence over the weekend. He said more sanctions would be announced. And he also said that the U.S. hasn't given up on moving food and medicine into Venezuela and that they're studying some new areas along the border where they might try again.

But Pence also came out with some carrots. He urged Venezuelan military officials who are propping up Maduro to turn against his government and take up Juan Guaido's longstanding offer of amnesty. Over the weekend, about 150 officers and soldiers did defect. However, you know, as you mentioned, there weren't the massive military defections that Guaido's people were hoping for.

SHAPIRO: OK, so one big question hanging over all of this is will the U.S. take military actions to bring about regime change in Venezuela. What did Vice President Pence have to say about that today?

OTIS: He said he hopes military force isn't necessary but that it remains an option. Now, this is something the Trump administration has been saying for a long time. So it wasn't really an escalation in rhetoric. Pence did make some quite interesting comments about Colombia, which borders Venezuela and was the launching point for that failed aid convoy. And let's listen to what he said.


VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Colombia is our strongest partner in the region. And any who would threaten her sovereignty or security would do well not to test the commitment to our ally or the resolve of the United States of America.

OTIS: What Pence seems to be saying there is that the U.S. could be drawn into a conflict with Venezuela should there be any kind of major cross-border incidents with Colombia. And, you know, as we saw over the weekend, it's not that hard to imagine something like that happening.

SHAPIRO: Pence is not the only foreign leader in Bogota today. There are also dozens of representatives of other countries backing Juan Guaido, including other Latin American countries. What's the broader feeling about the prospect of military intervention in Venezuela?

OTIS: Latin American diplomats are saying that they're open to things like tougher sanctions. Pence wants them to, for example, restrict visas to Maduro officials, to confiscate state oil company assets in their countries, to close off their banking systems. But even before today's meetings, Latin American leaders - including the vice president of Brazil - were explicitly ruling out military intervention in Venezuela.

You know, right now there's a lot of unity in many parts of the world in terms of backing Guaido and isolating Maduro. And so there's a danger that this solidarity could break apart if there's a major push, either from within the Venezuelan opposition or the U.S. - or from some other country - to send in troops.

SHAPIRO: And so what is Guaido's next move here?

OTIS: Well, Guaido's in a tough position. He has a lot of international support but no real power. In fact, it's unclear whether Maduro's even going to let him back into Venezuela. There are efforts to open up negotiations with the Maduro government for a peaceful transfer of power. But in many past attempts at talks, Maduro has used negotiations to stall for time.

SHAPIRO: That's reporter John Otis in Bogota, Colombia. Thanks so much.

OTIS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.