Opinion, written today in the Wall Street Journal by Vice President, Mike Pence:
The Venezuelan people will march Wednesday for freedom and democracy. They will do so at the urging of the National Assembly—Venezuela’s legitimate legislature—and its courageous president, Juan Guaidó. As I told Mr. Guaidó last week, President Trump and the U.S. stand resolutely with the Venezuelan people as they seek to regain their liberty from dictator Nicolás Maduro.
The National Assembly has rightly called Mr. Maduro’s rule illegitimate, following a sham election last May. It has called for protests on Jan. 23 because on that date in 1958 the Venezuelan people toppled their country’s military dictatorship.
As I have heard many times from Venezuelans over the past 2 years, Mr. Maduro has exacerbated the country’s corruption and socialist policies, accelerating its descent from one of the richest countries in the Western Hemisphere to one of the poorest and most despotic. He promised prosperity, but his actions have caused Venezuela’s economy to shrink by nearly 50%. He promised safety and security, but cities and streets are now overrun with murderous gangs, kidnappers and thieves. He promised to respect democracy, but instead followed the advice and example of his communist mentors in Cuba, imprisoning opponents, banning major parties, and undermining fair elections.
Mr. Guaidó experienced this firsthand. Two days before I spoke with him, he was briefly abducted by the country’s intelligence service in a brazen attempt to intimidate him into silence. It failed.
Mr. Guaidó has courageously spoken out because the Venezuelan people are suffering. Nine out of 10 citizens live in poverty. Millions lack access to drinking water and food, and the average Venezuelan reports losing significant weight in recent years, with the poorest dropping more than 20 pounds. Three out of four hospitals are abandoned, causing infectious diseases that were once eradicated in our hemisphere to re-emerge and spread.
In Colombia in 2017, my wife and I met a woman who had fled Venezuela with her four grandchildren. She told us that in their old town, the children had to wake up at 4 a.m. every day to get a ticket, then stand in line to redeem it for a piece of bread in the afternoon. Like that family, more than three million Venezuelans have now abandoned their homeland—the hemisphere’s largest cross-border mass exodus ever—with another two million expected to follow in 2019.
This is a humanitarian crisis and also a matter of regional security. Vulnerable families often fall prey to human traffickers and criminal organizations. Venezuela’s growing black market has attracted criminal syndicates from across the world to launder money and export drugs, weapons and terrorism across the region. In these respects Venezuela is a failed state, and failed states know no borders.
For the sake of our vital interests, and for the sake of the Venezuelan people, the U.S. will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles.
The U.S. has already devoted nearly $100 million to support Venezuelan refugees. We have also targeted corruption and imposed strict financial sanctions on illicit business and more than 54 current or former senior officials, including core members of Mr. Maduro’s inner circle. We have rallied free nations in the region and beyond to isolate the regime, resulting in official condemnations from more than 50 countries as well as the Organization of American States, the Lima Group and the European Union.
Venezuela’s crisis will worsen until democracy is restored. That is why under President Trump, the U.S. strongly supports the National Assembly and Mr. Guaidó. Nicolás Maduro has no legitimate claim to power. Nicolás Maduro must go.
Sixty-one years after the Venezuelan people rose up for freedom, they are once again crying out for libertad. America stands with the Venezuelan people as they stand up to the dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro. “A people that loves freedom will in the end be free,” said Simón Bolívar. We believe that day is coming soon.