The U.S. Air Force has begun flying tons of aid to a Colombian town on the Venezuelan border as part of an effort meant to undermine socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
The first of three C-17 cargo planes took off Saturday from Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida and landed in the town of Cucuta. It’s a collection point for aid that’s supposed to be distributed by backers of Juan Guaido, the congressional leader who is recognized by the U.S. as Venezuela’s legitimate president.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has said the United States “will not tolerate” the continued detention of Roberto Marrero, chief of staff of Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Marrero was arrested Thursday during a pre-dawn raid on his home. Venezuelan Interior Minister Nestor Reverol explained the arrest, saying a “large number of weapons” were found in Marrero’s house.
Pence made the statement in an op-ed piece for the Miami Herald Friday. He warned that the United States would not tolerate Marrero’s detention or intimidation of the Guaido government, which the U.S. recognizes as the legitimate government of Venezuela.
Pence also called out Cuba, Russia, and China for supporting the administration of embattled president Nicolas Maduro and profiting from it.
He said Cuba is allowing its military and intelligence services to train, support, and equip Venezuela’s secret police; Russia vetoed a resolution at the United Nations calling for unfettered aid to Venezuela; and China is refusing to grant a visa to economist Ricardo Hausmann to attend the Inter-American Development Bank’s annual meeting, which it is hosting.
Pence called Maduro a “corrupt dictator” and said those nations are holding Venezuela back in its “steady march towards freedom.”
“Nicolas Maduro must go,” he said.
Guaido, head of the National Assembly, has declared himself interim president after disputed elections. The United States and about 50 other countries have recognized him as Venezuela’s legitimate leader. But Maduro has vowed to remain, leaving the two men in a struggle for power.
U.S. citizens detained
Also Friday, the State Department issued a statement of concern for “all U.S. persons” detained in Venezuela. Prison officials reportedly are preventing lawyers and families of detained Americans from seeing or bringing food to the detainees.
Six U.S. citizens, executives of the oil company Citgo, have been in jail since November 2017 for alleged money laundering and embezzlement.
The two U.S. senators from Texas, home to five of the six detainees, say the six are being held in deteriorating conditions. The legislators also say Venezuelan authorities have denied the detainees a trial and contact with the State Department.
Citgo is a U.S.-based refinery and gasoline marketer primarily owned by Venezuela’s state-run oil company, PDVSA.
President Donald Trump has said all options are on the table for Venezuela, but he has not said under what circumstances he might consider using U.S. military force.