Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen spent Wednesday visiting Venezuelan refugees in the Amazon city of Manaus, Brazil, listening to their stories of escaping the repressive socialist regime in Caracas and promising support from the American people.
Vice President Pence is on a tour of Latin America that will bring him north of Brazil to Central America, where he is scheduled to meet the leaders of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to discuss the growing migration crisis on the southern American border.
In Manaus, deep in the heart of the Amazon rain forest, Pence emphasized to refugees housed at the Santa Catarina community shelter the importance of faith in overcoming their struggle. “The Bible tells us, ‘Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.’ And so I truly do know and believe, knowing the heart of faith of people of Venezuela, the heart of faith of millions across this new world, that freedom will prevail in Venezuela,” he promised. “It is our shared destiny.”
“I’m here to bring a message on behalf of President Donald Trump and the American people, to say to our neighbors from Venezuela and all of those who minister to these precious families,” Pence said, “We are with you, we stand with you, and we will keep standing with you until democracy is restored in Venezuela.”
Pence condemned the regime of dictator Nicolás Maduro for destroying a nation that had once been the wealthiest in Latin America, like Cuba before it until the rise of the communist Castro regime, which still rules the island and functionally governs Venezuela:
The Maduro regime has violently suppressed those who question or criticize their reign. They’ve thrown thousands of political prisoners behind bars. Protestors have been gunned down in the streets. The government’s vicious gangs have brought fear into the heart of neighborhoods and homes. And so many of you have experienced and seen firsthand the extraordinary, heartbreaking, devastating impact of dictatorship on your homeland in Venezuela.
“Venezuela was once a beacon of prosperity and freedom in the new world,” he noted. “But under Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s great democracy has been reduced by a brutal dictatorship. And the deprivation that has followed has been a consequence of that failed leadership.”
According to the Vice Presidential pool report, the Pences met with several Venezuelan families living in the shelter, who shared their stories of escaping starvation and political violence.
Powerful visit with families who fled the Maduro regime at the Santa Catarina Shelter in Manaus, Brazil today. These refugees didn’t flee simply for a better life — but to save their lives. These families told me they want to return to a free & democratic Venezuela. #Libertad pic.twitter.com/AE7lKx5UDb
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) June 27, 2018
One of the women who spoke with the Vice President and his wife, a former oil engineering student, told the couple in English that Venezuelans “want to study, [they] want to learn. I was studying Petro engineer. I was in my fourth year.”
“We in Venezuela don’t have money, we don’t have anything,” the woman, identified as 22-year-old Nicoll Rengel, said. “For me, it’s really weird staying in another country and staying here but I have friends there who say I want to be you I want to stay there. We need help right now. Our country needs help. Thank you for listening.”
Venezuelans in the United States tend to have higher education levels than average for Hispanic Americans, and speak English at higher rates, according to Pew Research, largely due to the thriving state of the economy before late dictator Hugo Chávez took over in the early 2000s.
Venezuelan officials responded with vitriol to Pence’s visit to the refugees. “What irony and hypocrisy from a racist government that separates families and cages innocent children, pretending to meddle in the matters of our region,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said, referring to American immigration policies put in place by the Obama administration that the Trump administration has moved to change.
“Venezuela and Brazil repudiate the presence of this violator of the human rights of Latin American immigrants [in the region],” Arreaza claimed.
There is no evidence that the federal government of Brazil “repudiated” Pence’s visit. On the contrary, President Michel Temer warmly welcomed Pence to the country. At the local level, however, Pence did face some resistance. Mayor of Manaus Arthur Virgílio Neto refused to meet with Pence, at first blaming logistics but later complaining that Pence had brought too much security with him.
“Vice President Mike Pence is coming to Manaus. He will spend two days in the city and brings his wife. But I was informed that, to meet with him, I had to wait for him for an hour while his entourage arrived and could not bring my wife,” Neto said on Wednesday. “Because of this, I am not going to the meeting … this does not affect neither myself nor him.”
Neto changed his story later on, however, taking to Twitter to complain that the presence of American security to protect Pence in Manaus was a violation of Brazilian sovereignty.
“Respect the sovereignty of my country and the spirit of the Amazon people,” he wrote. “I do not accept military intervention, not even as a joke. Please, go home.”