U.S. won't stand by as Venezuela crumbles, VP Pence says

U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence pledges the U.S. will use its economic and diplomatic power to push for free elections in Venezuela.

Venezuela's ousted prosecutor accuses Maduro of corruption

U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence listens as Venezuelan exile Maria Eugenia Tovar speaks during a meeting with the exile community Wednesday, in Doral, Fla. Tovar is holding a photo of her daughter who was killed in Venezuela during a protest. (Lynne Sladky/Associated Press)

U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence addressed a sympathetic crowd of Venezuelans in South Florida and pledged the U.S. will use its economic and diplomatic power to push for free elections.

Pence spoke at a church in the city of Doral, the exile enclave, to a crowd of about 300. They occasionally shouted "freedom, freedom" and cheered every time the vice-president spoke of President Donald Trump's interest in Venezuela.

"Under the leadership of President Donald Trump, the United States of America will continue to bring the full measure of American economic and diplomatic power to bear until democracy is restored in Venezuela," Pence said, threatening there were more sanctions to come against the government of President Nicolas Maduro.

As other countries in Latin America have improved their economies, Venezuela has gone downhill, Pence said, calling Maduro's presidency a "dictatorship."

"We hear you, we stand with you. We will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles," Pence said.

A woman held a sign at the event that read, "Venezuelan resistance asks for military resistance. We can't do it alone," an apparent reference to Trump's remarks earlier this month that there was a possibility for the U.S. to invade Venezuela.

Damage control

Last week, Pence visited Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Panama in an attempt to rally the region against Venezuela, but because of Trump's comments, the vice-president switched to damage control to soothe fears in a region scarred by past U.S. invasions.

In South Florida, Pence found a supportive and grateful crowd.

Venezuelan government supporters perform a parody involving a militia member confronting Uncle Sam, symbolizing the U.S. government, during an anti-imperialist march to denounce U.S. President Donald Trump's talk of a "military option" for resolving the country's political crisis, in Caracas earlier this month. (Ariana Cubillos/Associated Press)

Earlier on Wednesday, Pence met with 15 Venezuelan exiles in South Florida who said more help is needed to restore democracy in the socialist regime.

Ramon Muchacho was the mayor of the municipality of Chacao since 2013 but fled in July, saying he was being persecuted by the government.

"There is no way to get [the government] out by democratic means," Muchacho said, pleading for more help from Latin America, the U.S. and Europe.

Two other mayors told Pence the U.S. government should impose more sanctions.

Maduro accused of corruption

Venezuela's recently ousted chief prosecutor accused President Nicolas Maduro and several allies on Wednesday of corruption, saying she would turn over proof that would help other countries prosecute.

Venezuela's government quickly fired back, accusing Luisa Ortega Diaz of "grave moral and ethical infractions."

Venezuela's former Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz, second left, talks with her counterparts during a meeting of Mercosur trade bloc prosecutors, in Brasilia, Brazil. (Eraldo Peres/Associated Press)

Ortega spoke during a meeting of Mercosur trade bloc prosecutors in the Brazilian capital, Brasilia. Ortega was removed by a new, pro-government constitutional assembly in early August.

"I want to denounce, in front of the world, a grave situation in Venezuela: that of excessive corruption," Ortega said.

Ortega said she had evidence implicating Maduro and other top officials in corruption involving Brazilian constructor Odebrecht and other companies.

$100M from construction company

Ortega told reporters after the meeting that Maduro loyalist Diosdado Cabello received $100 million from Odebrecht via a Spanish company called TSE Arietis, which was owned by cousins of Cabello.

She also claimed that Maduro was the owner of a Mexican company that Venezuela had contracted to provide basic foodstuffs. She said Group Grand Limited was registered in Mexico under the names Rodolfo Reyes, Alvaro Pulido Vargas and Alex Saab, but that Maduro was the real owner.

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Ortega's claims could not be immediately verified. Emails sent to Group Grand Limited, TSE Arietis and Odebrecht seeking comment were not immediately returned.

"It's impossible for cases to be investigated in Venezuela," said Ortega, adding that she was providing documentation to the United States, Brazil, Colombia and Spain.

Hours later Ortega's replacement, Tarek William Saab, told reporters in Venezuela's capital that the accusations "lacked validity" and should be presented to Venezuelan authorities.

Saab called Ortega a "world tourist" who had been pushed out because of her own infractions.

'A criminal state'

At the Florida meeting, Carlos Vecchio, a well-known leader of an opposition party, said that Venezuela is a failed state with criminals in control.

"It is a criminal state," Vecchio said. "It is led by a mafia involved in drug trafficking and close to terrorist groups."

Anti-government demonstrators wave a Venezuelan flag during a protest against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas earlier this month. Carlos Vecchio, an opposition leader, said Venezuela is a failed state with criminals in control. (Ariana Cubillos/Associated Press)

Alejandro Jesus Rebolledo, a Venezuelan judge who fled the country recently, also accused the government of crimes such as money laundering and drug trafficking.

The country's vice-president Tareck El Aissami was sanctioned by the Trump administration in February after being accused of running a drug trafficking network of corrupt officials in Venezuela. More recently, Washington slapped sanctions on Maduro and other top officials involved in the installation of a new, all-powerful constitutional assembly.

During the meeting, Ernesto Ackerman, a local leader of Venezuelan-Americans, approached Pence and gave him a black hat with the colours of the Venezuelan flag. It read, "Make Venezuela Great Again."