Trump warns that Russians must leave Venezuela
Wife of self-declared leader Juan Guaido president, thanks U.S. for support
U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday called on Russia to pull its troops from Venezuela and warned "all options" are open to make that happen.
Two Russian air force planes landed outside Caracas on Saturday carrying nearly 100 Russian troops. The U.S. government believes the troops include special forces and cybersecurity personnel.
"Russia has to get out," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, where he met with Fabiana Rosales, the wife of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Asked how he would make Russian forces leave, Trump said: "We'll see. All options are open."
Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence met with Rosales to express support for her husband, who invoked the constitution to assume the interim presidency in January, saying President Nicolas Maduro's re-election was not legitimate.
Venezuela's economy is in tatters with food and medicine in short supply due to years of hyperinflation. In addition, citizens are now grappling with power blackouts that experts have blamed on years of neglect and maintenance.
"They are trying to break our morale. They want to submerge us in eternal darkness. But let me tell you that there is light, and the light is here," said Rosales, a 26-year-old journalist and opposition activist.
Guaido himselfis subject to a travel ban, though he did recently defy it regionally for several days of talks with officials from a number of South America.
Rosales told Trump that Guaido was attacked on Tuesday. Upon leaving a National Assembly session, individuals threw stones at the vehicle Guaido was travelling in and tried to open its doors, according to a Reuters witness.
"I fear for my husband's life," said Rosales, who was accompanied by the wife and sister of Roberto Marrero, Guaido's chief of staff, who was arrested and detained last week.
Canada, like the U.S., is among a number of countries recognizing Guaido as the interim leader, until such time as free and fair elections can be held.
Maduro, who retains control of the military and other state institutions as well as the backing of Russia and China, has denounced Guaido as a puppet of the United States.
"The United States views Russia's arrival of military planes this weekend as an unwelcome provocation," Pence told reporters.
"We call on Russia today to cease all support of the Maduro regime and stand with Juan Guaido and stand with nations across this hemisphere and across the world until freedom is restored."
Venezuela rebuild would take billions: Pompeo
Russia has bilateral relations and agreements with Venezuela and Maduro that it plans to honour, Russia's deputy UN ambassador, Dmitry Polyanskiy, said in response on Twitter on Wednesday.
A spokesperson for Russia's Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, said the United States should pull troops from Syria before telling Moscow to withdraw from Venezuela.
"Before giving advice to somebody to withdraw from somewhere, the United States should bring to life its own concept of exodus, particularly from Syria," Zakharova said, speaking on Russia's state Channel One, according to Tass.
Despite the Russian presence, Guaido is continuing his outreach, calling for another day of protest on Saturday in response to the current conditions.
For her part, Rosales was slated to meet Melania Trump in Palm Beach on Thursday on a swing through South Florida, home to the largest community of Venezuelan exiles in the United States.
Rosales also plans to meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and members of the Venezuelan diaspora at a prominent Washington think-tank.
While Trump and Pence met with Rosales, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared before the House of Representatives subcommittee that oversees State Department spending on Wednesday.
Pompeo said the administration's 2020 budget proposal requests new authority to support a democratic transition in Venezuela, including transferring up to $500 million to foreign assistance accounts.
"The day and week after is going to be a long process," Pompeo said of Venezuela's rebuilding after years of economic and humanitarian crisis.
"I've seen estimates of between $6 and $12 billion to repair," he added.