By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence met with his Brazilian counterpart Hamilton Mourao at the White House on Monday to discuss sanctions and diplomatic efforts aimed at increasing the pressure on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to exit.
In his first-ever talks with Mourao, Pence aimed to encourage the former Brazilian general to use his experience and influence to urge Venezuelan military leaders – as well as China and Russia – to pull back on their support of Maduro, a White House official said.
The United States and most other Western countries have backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who declared himself interim president in January, arguing that Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate.
Maduro – who is backed by Russia and China and retains control of state functions and the country’s military – has called Guaido a puppet of the United States.
Guaido has offered amnesty to members of the military who took his side, but the top brass largely has stuck by Maduro.
Mourao, who was a defence attache in Caracas, “has a very unique perspective” when it comes to helping convince Venezuelan military leaders to switch sides, the White House official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“He speaks with a unique credibility from within the region as a senior political leader with a military background. That voice is very important, and he is using that voice to advance the cause,” the official said.
Mourao is also well-positioned to confront Russia and China over their support of Maduro, since Brazil is a partner with the nations in the BRICS group of largest emerging markets economies, the official said.
The United States sanctioned state-owned PDVSA in January, a move aimed at cutting Maduro’s government off from oil revenues, and has also sanctioned Venezuelan banks, shipping companies and individuals connected to Maduro.
The White House would like allies like Brazil to take similar economic measures to isolate Venezuela, the official said.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Alistair Bell)