Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s president in Caracas, Venezuela, on Jan. 24, 2019. (Photographer: Marco Bello/Bloomberg)

Pompeo Tells UN: Venezuela's Choice Is Freedom or Mayhem

(Bloomberg) -- Secretary of State Michael Pompeo took the U.S. effort to recognize Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful leader to the United Nations, part of a broader campaign to replace President Nicolas Maduro, and said the choice is between freedom and mayhem.

Pompeo’s comments came as the European Union pushed for new elections to be called within days in the embattled Latin American nation, a diplomatic move that Venezuela’s foreign minister dismissed as “almost childlike.”

“Now it is time for every other nation to pick a side. No more delays, no more games. Either you stand with the forces of freedom, or you’re in league with Maduro and his mayhem,” Pompeo told the UN Security Council on Saturday during an emergency session called for by the U.S.

Pompeo Tells UN: Venezuela's Choice Is Freedom or Mayhem

The top U.S. diplomat rapped China and Russia for “propping up a failed regime in the hopes of recovering billions of dollars in ill-considered investments and assistance made over the years.” Russia pushed back, saying the U.S. was trying to engineer a coup in Caracas, while China said outside powers shouldn’t interfere in the power struggle.

Fight for Recognition

Venezuela’s competing leaders -- Guaido heads the National Assembly while Maduro succeeded the late President Hugo Chavez in 2013 -- are vying for support in the streets and the military. The U.S. is betting it has the clout to tip the scales after President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president was joined by countries including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Panama.

EU powers shifted toward the U.S. position with envoys of the U.K. and Germany saying the European Union would recognize Guaido as interim president unless a new election is called within eight days.

Maduro has stood firm in the face of this week’s demonstrations against his rule, winning the endorsement of key military leaders and vowing to defeat what he calls a U.S.-backed coup against his government.

Gold Reserves

Maduro’s efforts to withdraw $1.2 billion in gold from the Bank of England, a significant part of the nation’s $8 billion in foreign reserves, was blocked after U.S. officials lobbied their U.K. counterparts, Bloomberg reported on Friday. The U.S. is instead seeking to steer Venezuela’s overseas assets to Guaido to help bolster his chances of effectively taking control of the government.

Pompeo Tells UN: Venezuela's Choice Is Freedom or Mayhem

Pompeo urged countries to help isolate the Maduro regime economically, saying they should “assure that they disconnect their financial system from the Maduro regime.”

The UN hearing was mostly a symbolic clash. With Venezuelan allies China and Russia holding veto power, there was little chance the UN body would agree to take action. Among the countries rejecting the U.S. request for an emergency meeting was South Africa.

Pompeo was gone by the time Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza took the floor to accuse the U.S. of trying to “trigger a civil war” in Venezuela and listed almost two centuries of U.S. interventions in the region going back to the Monroe Doctrine in 1823.

Several hundred people cheered Guaido, 35, at a rally in Caracas, where the streets were mostly quiet after days of violent protests. He called on supporters to help promote his legislation offering an amnesty to members of the armed forces accused of corruption or human-rights abuses if they break ranks.

Moscow’s Help

Short of stepping up political and economic pressure, it’s unclear how the U.S. could force out Maduro, who was re-elected in a 2018 vote widely seen as rigged. Venezuela’s top military officials swore their allegiance on Thursday.

Russia has helped Maduro’s government with loans and weapons exports. China has provided more than $62 billion, mostly in loans, to Venezuela since 2007 and it’s paid back in crude.

“This is a gross abuse of the prerogatives of the members of the Security Council,” Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya told the Security Council. “The internal situation of this Latin American country should not be on the agenda.”

Pompeo Tells UN: Venezuela's Choice Is Freedom or Mayhem

Guaido has aggressively pushed the military and the international community to recognize him as rightful head of state since he took the helm of the legislature on Jan. 5. The U.S. has steadily expanded economic sanctions and denunciations of Maduro since Trump took office, all but urging that Venezuelans overturn their government.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.