US, Colombia aim to restore Venezuela's 'democratic heritage'

This handout picture released by the Colombian presidency shows Colombian President Ivan Duque (L) and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a meeting in Cartagena, Colombia on January 2, 2019 (AFP Photo/NICOLAS GALEANO) (Colombian Presidency/AFP/File)

Cartagena (Colombia) (AFP) - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Colombian President Ivan Duque discussed Wednesday how to help restore democratic rule to crisis-wracked Venezuela and reject its "dictatorship."

Pompeo followed up a trip to Brazil to meet with new far right President Jair Bolsonaro with a visit to Colombia for talks on the migrant exodus from neighboring Venezuela, and its regime led by President Nicolas Maduro.

"Our conversations today covered how we can collaborate with regional and international partners to help those fleeing and help Venezuelans recover their democratic heritage," Pompeo said from the Caribbean city of Cartagena.

He described Colombia as "a natural leader on regional efforts to support democracy and the rule of law in Venezuela," its neighbor.

Right-wing Duque, who succeeded Juan Manuel Santos in August, said that "all the countries that share the value of democracy should unite to reject the Venezuelan dictatorship and do everything necessary to restore democracy and constitutional order."

Pompeo praised Colombia for its support of the one million Venezuelans that have crossed the border and "fled the crisis caused by the Maduro regime's authoritarian misrule."

According to the United Nations, 2.3 million Venezuelans have escaped poverty and economic meltdown since 2015 as those who remain face shortages of basic necessities such as food and medicine, as well as failing public services, including water, electricity and transport.

Pompeo said the US has dedicated almost $92 million in aid to help Colombia deal with its influx of Venezuelan migrants.

During his visit to Brazil, Pompeo agreed with his Peruvian and Brazilian counterparts to increase the pressure on Maduro, with Venezuela's government reacting by decrying interference.

Maduro will begin his second mandate as president on January 10, although the result of last year's election was branded a fraud by the US, European Union and Organization of American States.

Relations between Bogota and Caracas have been tense since Duque came to power.

Maduro has accused Colombia and Brazil of collaborating with Washington to overthrow and assassinate him, although both neighboring South American countries have dismissed any suggestions of a military intervention.

US President Donald Trump has ramped up sanctions against the Maduro regime since succeeding Barack Obama.