US urges Venezuela's Maduro to 'open these bridges'

Donald Trump's Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, called onVenezuela's acting President Nicolas Maduro to allow aid to enter the country. Pompeo urged Maduro to step down and sent a stern warning to Cuba and Russia.

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday urged Venezuela's acting President Nicolas Maduro to "change your ways" after visiting a migrant center in Cucuta, a Colombian border town.

More than 3 million Venezuelans have fled hyperinflation, food and medicine shortages and a political crisis in their homeland. The UN estimates that figure will surpass 5 million by the end of the year.

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What Pompeo said

Imitating US President Ronald Reagan's famous "Tear down this wall" speech in Berlin at the end of the Cold War, Pompeo called on Maduro to "open these bridges, open these borders. You can end this today." He went on to say:

  • "I hope you will care now when you see the horror, when you see the tragedy, to change your ways and to leave your country."
  • The United States "will continue to use every economic and political means at our disposal to help the Venezuelan people."
  • "Cubans must understand that there will be a cost with continued support of Nicolas Maduro, and we're going to have the same conversation with Russia as well."

Read more: Venezuela explained: Who backs Maduro, who backs Guaido?

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Pompeo 'has come to intimidate us'

The US Secretary of State's visit to Cucuta with Colombian President Ivan Duque came as part of a four-nation South American tour aimed at applying pressure on Maduro.

On the Venezuelan side of the border, Freddy Bernal, a government leader close with the country's Maduro-supporting colectivos community, said Pompeo "has come to intimidate us and give orders to his servant Ivan Duque."

Humanitarian crisis: Maduro has imposed a blockade along Venezuela's borders to prevent humanitarian aid from Colombia, Brazil and the Dutch Caribbean from entering the country. The acting Venezuelan president associates the aid with a US invasion and has cited US sanctions as the reason for the country's economic woes. Authorities in Venezuela have also accused Washington of attempting to overthrow Maduro and even blamed it for an electrical grid failure last month that left the country without power for days.

Read more: US' Mike Pence urges UN to recognize Venezuela's Guaido

Political crisis: In January, opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself Venezuela's interim president, a move aimed at forcing Maduro out of office. The United States was one of the first countries to recognize the moves and more than 50 other nations — including Germany — have since followed suit. But the support for Guaido has not loosened Maduro's grip on power, as the embattled leader continues to enjoy support from the armed forces.

Venezuela on the brink

The last straw

In March 2017, violent protests erupted across the country in response to a Supreme Court decision to strip the legislative branch of its powers. Amid an international outcry, President Nicolas Maduro reversed the decision, but it was too late. Thousands continued to take to the streets, calling for new elections. More than 100 people were killed in clashes with security forces.

Venezuela on the brink

Hunger, a growing problem

The violence added to the ongoing economic and political crisis in Venezuela. Many Venezuelans spend more than 30 hours a week waiting in lines to shop, and are often confronted with empty shelves when they finally enter a store. President Maduro blames the crisis on US price speculation. The opposition, however, accuses the Socialist government of economic mismanagement.

Venezuela on the brink

Health care in crisis

The crisis has even affected health care in the oil-rich nation. Venezuelans often head to Colombia to collect medical supplies to send home, as seen in this picture. Hospitals across Venezuela have compared conditions to those seen only in war zones. As patient deaths rise, health officials have sounded the alarm on the rise of malaria and dengue fever.

Venezuela on the brink

Power grab

By July 2017, Venezuela's pro-government Constituent Assembly was established. For observers, it had all the hallmarks of a power grab. The new body adopted the authority to pass legislation on a range of issues, effectively taking away the powers of Venezuela's elected congress, which was under the opposition's control. The move drew wide international condemnation.

Venezuela on the brink

The West sanctions

In response to the political crisis, the United States and European Union imposed a series of sanctions against ruling officials. The US blacklisted members of the Constituent Assembly and froze all of Maduro's assets that are subject to US jurisdiction. The EU banned arms sales to the country.

Venezuela on the brink

Government victorious in regional elections

In October 2017, Venezuela held two votes: regional elections and elections for governors, which were long overdue. The opposition boycotted the vote, but then split, as some candidates and small parties chose to participate. This caused a deep rift within Maduro's opponents. The government went on to sweep the vote, which detractors say was unfair and heavily favored the regime.

Venezuela on the brink

Debt default

In November 2017, the oil-rich, cash-poor nation faced its day of reckoning. Credit ratings agencies declared Venezuela and its state-run oil company in "selective default." But Russia offered to restructure the South American country's debt to ensure Caracas pays its other creditors. US and EU sanctions, however, limited the chance of an agreement.

Venezuela on the brink

Presidential elections scheduled

The National Assembly announced in January 2018 that it would grant Maduro's call for snap presidential elections. The electoral authority, CNE, held the elections on May 20. The EU, the US and 14 Latin American nations warned that they would not recognize the results. The mainstream MUD opposition alliance boycotted the vote, leaving only one possible outcome.

Venezuela on the brink

Maduro wins ...

Maduro was re-elected to a second six-year term with about 68 percent of the vote. Turnout was only 46 percent, according to electoral authorities. However, the MUD opposition alliance put turnout at less than 30 percent. The Organization of American States (OAS) called the elections neither free nor fair.

Venezuela on the brink

... Guaido assumes power

But weeks into the new year, the situation took a drastic turn. On January 23, 2019, parliament president Juan Guaido declared himself interim president of Venezuela — a move that was quickly recognized by US President Donald Trump. Maduro called it a US-backed "coup." Days later, the US sanctioned Venezuela's state oil firm, while Guaido staked his claim on the country's foreign assets.

dv/rt (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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