Venezuela's Guaido meets Pence in anti-Maduro strategy talks

Hector Velasco

Bogota (AFP) - United States Vice President Mike Pence told Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido that Donald Trump supports him "100 percent" as the pair met regional allies on Monday to thrash out a strategy to remove Nicolas Maduro from power after the failed attempt to ship in humanitarian aid.

The meeting comes after four people were killed and hundreds injured as Guaido supporters clashed with Venezuelan security forces on the borders with Colombia and Brazil over the weekend.

The Lima group met in Bogota vowing "to find a peaceful solution," Peru's Foreign Affairs Minister Hugo de Zela said, despite Guaido's previous call to consider "all measures" to free Venezuela's population.

Guaido warned that "indulging" Maduro "would be a threat to all of America," while Colombia President Ivan Duque called for "more powerful and effective" pressure on the socialist leader.

"We hope for a peaceful transition to democracy. But President Trump has made it clear: all options are on the table," said Pence.

Handout picture released by the Colombian Presidency's press office shows Colombian President Ivan Duque (C), US Vice President Mike Pence (R) and Venezuelan opposition leader and self-declared acting president Juan Guaido (AFP Photo/HO)

The US slapped new sanctions on the governors of four Venezuelan states aligned with Maduro for impeding aid shipments.

The European Union on Sunday condemned the government's use of violence and armed civilians to block the aid entry, while UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was "shocked and saddened" by the civilian deaths.

Guaido, the 35-year-old leader of Venezuela's National Assembly, sensationally declared himself acting president in January after the opposition controlled legislature concluded that Maduro was fraudulently re-elected.

Some 50 countries recognize him as Venezuela's legitimate interim president.

- 'Victory' -

Despite the defection of more than 150 soldiers to Guaido's side, Maduro's military blockade held firm and prevented the aid from entering.

Maduro's right-hand man Diosdado Cabello proclaimed "victory" on Sunday.

"Not a single one of those trucks with aid got through," Cabello said at a rally in the border town of Tachira.

Humanitarian aid has become the focal point in Guaido's challenge to Maduro's authority.

Venezuela is suffering from a humanitarian crisis following years of recession and more recently hyperinflation, which have left shortages of basic necessities such as food and medicine.

Guaido says 300,000 people face death if those supplies are not brought in urgently but Maduro claims it's a smokescreen to cover a US invasion.

He ordered several crossings on Venezuela's borders with Colombia and Brazil closed.

At the opening of the Lima Group meeting, Colombia's Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said the representatives were "trying hard to facilitate the opening of a humanitarian corridor."

However, the group of 14 nations is not united in its approach to the Venezuela crisis and Mexico, Costa Rica, Guyana and Saint Lucia skipped the meeting.

Guaido, though, rallied those present saying: "It's important to recover democracy in Venezuela because those usurping power today are a threat to the continent's stability."

- 'Maduro's days numbered' -

Bolivia's President Evo Morales, a Maduro ally, called on the Lima Group to "seek a solution through dialogue."

"In the Lima Group the consensus is that Maduro must be removed, but there is no consensus on how to do that," political scientist Laura Gil told AFP.

Despite the many defections, Maduro seems to have won this round in the power struggle.

After Saturday's events it is "not very clear" that Guaido has "massive" support in Venezuela, analyst Rafael Pineros told AFP.

However, on Sunday US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was confident that "Maduro's days are numbered."

Colombian President Ivan Duque on Sunday visited the two border crossing points where most of the violence took place.

More than 300 people were injured in a day of disturbances at crossings on the Colombian and Brazilian borders.

A 14-year-old boy was among those killed Saturday near the Brazilian border in clashes with Venezuelan security forces.

Sporadic clashes between hooded protesters and police, supported by terror-spreading armed civilian "colectivos," continued Sunday on the Venezuelan side of the border, but were not as intense as the day before.

Scores of Venezuelans who managed to slip across the border to get aid were trapped there as Venezuelan authorities had closed it.

Nicolasa Gil, a frail 71 year-old who spent the night in Cucuta, Colombia near one of the crossing points, said she was "scared to cross into my country.

"Here we're safer than over there," she told AFP.

Maduro severed ties with Bogota and on Sunday a group of Colombian diplomats trickled across one of the border bridges on foot, luggage in tow.