Pence announces new sanctions on Venezuela, warns of socialism in U.S.
Vice President Mike Pence on Friday announced a new round of sanctions intended to further starve Venzuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s regime of resources and, drawing parallels with the crisis-stricken Latin American country, warned that socialism is beginning to take root in the United States.
Pence’s speech at Rice University’s Baker Institute to a crowd of about 300, including many Venezuelan expatriates, came as about 100 students gathered across across the street to protest the vice president’s appearance. Many came with rainbow flags showing their support for the LGBT community and posters bearing words such as “VICE BIGOT,” “No to Pence. Yes to Peace,” and “Go Away Satan!
At times, the muffled cries could be heard inside the institute, where Pence delivered a message largely rehashing the Trump administration’s position that opposition leader Juan Guaidó should be recognized as Venezuela’s interim president. The vice president also devoted several minutes to what he cast as the creeping influence of socialism in the United States.
“The truth is, we’re living in a time in this country of growing support for socialism, and growing intolerance for diverse viewpoints, including on many college campuses across America,” Pence said.
Pence announced the United States will impose sanctions on 34 vessels owned or operated by PDVSA, a Venezuelan state-owned oil firm, as well as two other companies and a vessel carrying Venezuelan crude oil to Cuba.
The move aims to put pressure on Cuba as a way to get to Caracas. Despite falling oil production and a mounting economic crisis in Venezuela, Cuba still has been receiving shipments of PDVSA oil as an important part of its energy mix.
Cuba is a major importer of crude oil and in return it sends assistance to Venezuela in the form of political advisers, intelligence and military officials and medical professionals.
“Venezuelan oil belongs to Venezuelan people,” Pence said.
U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, the top ranking Republican on the House Foreign Relations Committee, expressed support for the move after Pence’s speech. McCaul also recalled his recent trip to Cúcuta, a Colombian city that borders Venezuela and serves as a major crossing point for refugees.
“It’s a humanitarian and refugee crisis. As long as Maduro’s there, it’s going to continue,” McCaul said.
The Austin Republican also largely agreed with Pence’s contention that socialism is taking hold in the U.S. He noted that some South American countries that long have practiced socialism are now adopting capitalistic economies.
“It is kind of odd to see Latin America, which has been under socialism for quite some time, moving in that direction,” McCaul said. “And, yet, you have these elements — I would call more fringe elements — that are moving toward socialism in the United States.”
Pence’s announcement Friday is part of the White House’s ongoing effort to ramp up pressure on Maduro and the Venezuelan government. Last week, President Trump met the wife of Juan Guaido, Fabiana Rosales, and called for the removal of Russian military forces assisting the Maduro government.
On Tuesday, Pence met with families of six executives from Citgo Petroleum who have been detained in Caracas for about 17 months with no due process after they were arrested on what their families say are trumped up charges. Pence demanded Maduro release the prisoners.
Outside the Baker Institute, meanwhile, protesters directed their criticism toward Pence’s views on issues beyond Venezuela, appearing to make a broader critique of the Trump administration.
“I am really excited about how all communities at Rice have pulled together in unity behind this event. There’s 1,000 different reasons in this crowd to oppose Mike Pence, but everyone is here behind the same idea,” said Franz Brotzen, the president of Rice’s Young Democrats.
Not every student agreed with the protesters.
After the official student speakers finished, organizers opened the stage to others. The first who took the stage urged students to be understanding of Pence.
“But (Pence) hates us!” a student in the crowd retorted.
“Perhaps, but we have to have to respect the man for who he is,” he said before leaving the stage.
Reporter Brittany Britto contributed to this story.