BOGOTA, Colombia – After his address to diplomats of the 14-nation Lima Group, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó met with Venezuelan refugees who are living in poverty in Colombia's high-altitude capital of Bogotá.
Guaidó didn't come empty handed. He stood with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in front of boxes delivered by officials with the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID. The boxes had bags of PAN, a Venezuelan white corn flour used to make arepas, and other goods.
Some of the tearful migrants talked about some of the perils they have faced and their family's suffering. As Guaidó stood with his wife, Fabiana Rosales, a Venezuelan man hugged him and said, "May God protect you."
Guaidó, who is under U.S. protection as Venezuela's interim president, was in defiance of orders from embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's administration prohibiting him from leaving Venezuelan territory. Guaidó and Pence are asking the international community to block Maduro's access to oil assets and transfer them to the opposition.
Body guards surrounding him, Guaidó walked out to a rainy day in Bogotá after the meeting. When a Colombian reporter asked him if he was afraid, he ignored her question and talked about Venezuela's hyperinflation, which economists with the opposition reported in January is at 2.68 million percent. The highest inflation rate in the world.
Colombian Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said there were credible threats to Guaido, who has a 20-month-old daughter named Miranda with Rosales, a 26-year-old former journalist.
"It’s time to do more," Pence said during his address to the Lima Group. "The day is coming soon when Venezuela’s long nightmare will end."
For now, U.S. President Donald Trump's administration announced on Monday they will transfer $56 million to help countries harvoring Venezuelan refugees and issued new sanctions against four of Maduro's loyalists including Rafael Lacava, the governor of Venezuela's state of Carabobo.
"In the days ahead, the United States will announce even stronger sanctions on the regime’s corrupt financial networks. We will find every last dollar they have stolen and return that money to the Venezuelan people," Pence said.
Lacava, who joins the list of about 50 sanctioned loyalists, made headlines around the world for helping to free Joshua Holt, a Utah resident who was arrested in Venezuela and was held without a trial for two years, and most recently for allegedly hiding money in Switzerland and Andorra. The flamboyant socialist, who often wears Nike and designer clothes, is well known for not being afraid to flash his love of Dracula on everything from cars to buses.
Guaidó's public diplomatic effort in Bogotá comes after a bloody weekend that left four protesters dead, including a 14-year-old boy, and hundreds wounded during protests at the borders with Brazil and Colombia.
"They are dancing in Caracas on the tombs of indigenous people," Guaidó said during his Lima Group address.
Guaidó was referring to the deaths of Pemon indigenous people at the hands of Venezuelan soldiers during shootings at the border with Brazil and a video that showed Maduro dancing at a rally, as humanitarian aid at the Colombian border with Venezuela was set on fire.
In response to the statements from Pence and Guaidó, 10 of the member nations of the Lima Group issued a declaration calling on the Venezuelan military to recognize Guaidó as the interim president and asked the International Criminal Court to declare Maduro’s blockade of humanitarian aid a crime against humanity.
During the standoff between supporters of humanitarian aid and Maduro loyalists, Colombian authorities reported more than 160 Venezuelan soldiers deserted this weekend.