US Vice President Mike Pence on Friday listened to harrowing stories of deprivation, torture and escape from Venezuelans who fled their homeland, and pledged to ramp up pressure to help the opposition who are trying to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
In a visit to the largest community of Venezuelan exiles in the United States - and flanked by four prominent Florida Republican politicians - Pence rejected calls for talks with Maduro, and said all options were on the table to force him to leave.
“This is no time for dialogue. This is time for action,” Pence told a few hundred people at a rally in a local church, many of whom waved Venezuelan flags and shouted “Libertad!”
“The time has come to end the Maduro dictatorship once and for all,” said Pence, who has emerged as one of the strongest voices against the Venezuelan leader in the administration of US President Donald Trump.
The US government has recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president.
Most Latin American countries have done so as well, while European governments are also throwing their support behind Guaido, albeit more cautiously.
Russia and China, among others, back Maduro, who has said National Assembly head Guaido’s self-declared claim to the presidency is an attempted US-backed coup.
Maduro, who began a second term last month after elections last year that were dismissed by the West as a sham, has said he would be ready for talks with the opposition. Some countries, including Mexico and Uruguay, have offered to mediate.
Similar talks in the past have failed, and opposition leaders have said Maduro uses them to stall for time.
A former union leader who succeeded his charismatic mentor, the late President Hugo Chavez, Maduro has overseen a shrinking economy and the migration of more than 3 million Venezuelans fleeing food and drug shortages and hyperinflation.
While most have left for other South American countries, thousands have made their way to southern Florida, joining migrants from Cuba and other parts of Latin America. They form an important voting constituency in a swing state often critical to the outcome of US national elections.
Pence shared the stage with Republican senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, and Governor Ron DeSantis.