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Pompeo reiterates U.S. support for Venezuelan opposition leader Guaido

Interim Venezuelan president Juan Guaido (L) and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met for the first time Monday in Bogota, Colombia. Photo courtesy of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompe  
Interim Venezuelan president Juan Guaido (L) and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met for the first time Monday in Bogota, Colombia. Photo courtesy of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompe  

Jan. 21 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated his government's support of Venezuela's opposition leader and interim president Juan Guaido in his fight against embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Pompeo and Guaido met for the first time on the sidelines of the Third Western Hemisphere Counterterrorism Ministerial in Bogota, Colombia, on Monday -- a day after Guaido arrived in the neighboring country despite a pro-government Supreme Court imposed travel ban.

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During the press conference, Pompeo lavished praise on Guaido, calling him "a great leader" who will bring democracy to the socialist South American nation.

Pompeo also emphasized that nearly 60 countries have recognized Guaido as the interim leader of Venezuela.

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"You should know that countries across the world -- in Latin America, where we are today, here in Colombia; in Europe; in the United States; all across North America -- the people, the democratic people of those countries are with you," Pompeo said in a message to the Venezuelan people. "We're here to ensure -- to do everything we can to ensure -- that you get that opportunity, you get the chance simply to live the lives that you want, with democracy and freedom, so that you can take care of your families.

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"And president Guaido is working diligently to achieve that," he said.

Pompeo then pledged the support of the United States and all the countries participating in the counterterrorism ministerial to solve the political crisis that has gripped Venezuela since early last year when Maduro's 2018 re-election was deemed illegitimate and Guaido, as leader of the National Assembly, appointed himself interim president.

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Since then, the United States has been steadily applying pressure to force Maduro from power. However, he has managed to hold on with the support of Cuba and Russia, and Pompeo said Monday that he expects the United States to continue to tighten its vises on the Maduro regime and those responsible for propping him up.

"The work that we've done over these past months has been building to the place that we find ourselves today, and I would fully expect that there will be further actions that the United States will take to continue to support president Guaido and the Venezuelan people," he said.

Guaido told reporters that he defied the court ordered travel ban despite the risk of being jailed or killed when he returns in order to hold meetings in Europe with the European Union and at the World Economic Forum to be held this week in Davos, Switzerland.

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"Yes, there is a risk we assume on behalf of Venezuelans, in behalf of democracy," he said.

Asked what European leaders could do for him, Guaido said he'd prefer to discuss that later but that they are "implementing strategies to attain our objectives" and to apply further pressure on Maduro.

"The dictators won't want to give up the power they've taken," he said.

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"So this is a long-term strategy. We're facing it. So there are forces that cannot be stopped when you seek democracy. This is what we're seeing in Venezuela. We're mobilizing. We have demonstrating and we are not going to be different in the next few months," he said.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza lashed back at Pompeo, calling him Guiado's "puppeteer" who is taking his puppet on an international tour after failing in its mission to oust Maduro.

"[Pompeo] finds it hard to understand that as a puppeteer, he & his work were a monumental failure in [Venezuela]," Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said in a tweet posted on Maduro's account. "Instead of opting for diplomacy, he now dedicates himself to taking his defeated puppet out into the world. What else could one expect?"

It was the first meeting between Guaido and Pompeo. After Guaido announced his surprise arrival in Colombia, he stated he will be "full of good news" when he returns to Venezuela.

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In a tweet, Guaido said an important part of his agenda abroad is to hold bilateral meetings with the United States during which he and his counterpart will be "specifying new actions and defining agreements."

It was Guaido's second time defying the court-imposed travel ban after visiting Colombia in February to help ship humanitarian aid into the country over a Maduro-imposed blockade.

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