The Latest: Maduro calls US vice president ‘ridiculous’

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The latest on Venezuela’s political and humanitarian crisis (all times local):

6:50 p.m.

Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro is lambasting U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s remarks at the U.N. Security Council as both “ridiculous” and “racist.”

In a televised address early Wednesday evening, Maduro said Pence’s comments show U.S. leaders “think they are superior to Venezuelans.”

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He added that on Pence’s face he could see “the hate, the racism” harbored toward Venezuela.

Pence urged the United Nations to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president and revoke the credentials of Samuel Moncada, who is the U.N. ambassador for Maduro’s government.

Pence told Moncada at a Security Council meeting: “With all due respect Mr. Ambassador, you shouldn’t be here.”

Maduro frequently engages in a war of words with his U.S. counterparts as tensions between both nations mount amid Venezuela’s power struggle.

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5:35 p.m.

The International Committee of the Red Cross will triple its budget in Venezuela this year as it helps authorities address mounting humanitarian concerns in the politically turbulent nation.

Red Cross President Peter Maurer wrapped up a five-day visit to Venezuela on Wednesday — the first by the head of the aid group in decades.

The trip took him to several public hospitals, slums and migrant centers that have seen the worst of a social crisis expected to worsen as U.S. financial sanctions take effect. He also met with President Nicolas Maduro as well as two vice presidents of the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

Maurer said his Geneva-based organization is tripling its budget this year in Venezuela to around $24 million and almost doubling its staff to around 180 people. He said it will focus its efforts on rehabilitating hospitals, increasing water supplies, training the armed forces in international humanitarian law and visiting detainees among other activities. He said the work would be concentrated in Caracas, southern Bolivar state and the restive border region with Colombia.

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4:45 p.m.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó is touring the capital region to rally supporters, saying it not the time to rest in the fight to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

Guaidó made several stops Wednesday across the capital of Caracas. He took a microphone each time for short speeches, pointing to constant blackouts and water shortages blamed on Maduro’s failed socialist government.

Guaidó said Venezuelans are living a “tragedy” that must end with the transition of power through new elections.

The head of the National Assembly also urged the armed forces to reject Maduro.

He’s being met by dozens of cheering supporters in some neighborhoods with hundreds greeting him at others.

Guaidó is backed by the United States among 50 nations that demand Maduro step down. Maduro calls Guaidó a “puppet” of a Washington-led coup.

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2:10 p.m.

Venezuela’s U.N. ambassador says the country is threatened with war by the Trump administration, “and the ground is being laid for an invasion.”

Samuel Moncada told the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday: “We must stop this war of Donald Trump.”

He said the actions causing humanitarian suffering in Venezuela “are the direct fruit of a plan of economic destruction put together by the government of the United States and the United Kingdom.”

Moncada said the aim is to strangle the country’s economy to provoke “a social implosion that they can then use as a pretext for foreign military intervention.”

He called it “a mindboggling inhumane experiment in unconventional warfare” and said it is aimed at importing a “puppet government” led by opposition leader Juan Guaidó

But Moncada said the U.S. has miscalculated because while the Venezuelan people and government are suffering, the “national spirit” has increased under pressure and the armed forces have not broken.

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12:50 p.m.

Russia’s U.N. ambassador says the emergency U.N. Security Council meeting on Venezuela called by the United States is just “another episode of a tragedy with several acts in the attempt to change regime in Venezuela.”

Vassily Nebenzia said the United States “has artificially provoked a crisis in this country in order to overthrow a legitimately elected leader and replace him with their own pawn.”

Russia is a strong supporter of President Nicolás Maduro’s government, while the United States and 54 other countries have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president.

At Wednesday’s session, Nebenzia called on “the United States to recognize that the Venezuelan people and other people have the right to determine their future.”

In his words, “If you want to make America great again, and we’re all sincerely interested in seeing that, stop interfering in the affairs of other states.”

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11:50 a.m.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence says the United States will exert diplomatic and economic pressure to bring about a peaceful transition to democracy in Venezuela, but adds that “all options are on the table.”

Pence addressed the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday and urged the United Nations to recognize Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s president in place of Nicolás Maduro and revoke the credentials of Venezuela’s U.N. Ambassador Samuel Moncada, who was also seated at the council’s horseshoe-shaped table.

Pence told him. “With all due respect Mr. ambassador, you shouldn’t be here.” The vice president added: “You should return to Venezuela and tell Nicolás Maduro that his time is up. It’s time for him to go.”

Pence said the United States would be circulating a Security Council resolution to recognize Guaidó and stand with the Venezuelan people “as they rise up … against intimidation and violence” and for freedom.

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11:30 a.m.

OPEC says Venezuela pumped 960,000 barrel of oil a day in March, a one-third drop from the previous month in a country enduring U.S. oil sanctions and nationwide blackouts.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries announced the figures in a monthly report that was released Wednesday.

Venezuela’s oil output has been in decline and it pumped about three times as much oil two decades ago. But the industry’s deterioration has accelerated since the United States imposed sanctions in January and power outages struck across the country in early March.

Oil has long been the chief source of income in a country that claims the world’s largest proven petroleum reserves.

The U.S. took action against the Venezuelan oil industry to support opposition leader Juan Guaido’s campaign to topple President Nicolás Maduro.

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11:10 a.m.

U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock says Venezuela’s humanitarian problem has worsened and “the scale of need is significant and growing” — with 7 million people representing 25 percent of the population needing humanitarian aid.

Lowcock told a Security Council meeting called by the United States on Wednesday that the U.N. is working to expand humanitarian aid, but that much more is needed.

He said there’s “a need to separate political and humanitarian objectives” and urged the council’s support “to safeguard the neutral and impartial nature of humanitarian action.”

Lowcock also urged the council to press for sustained and regular access to people in need, and to fund the expansion of humanitarian programs.

He said Venezuela’s “severe and continuing economic contraction” means the availability and affordability of food has fallen and malnutrition has increased, especially in areas with the highest poverty rates.

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10:30 a.m.

Human Rights Watch and public health researchers from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine are urging the United Nations to declare the situation in Venezuela “a complex humanitarian emergency that poses a serious risk to the region.”

They appealed to the Security Council ahead of its meeting Wednesday on Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis to ask Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to make a declaration because their research shows severe medicine and food shortages in Venezuela, and disease spreading across its borders.

Dr. Kathleen Page of Johns Hopkins says Guterres “should ring the alarm bell and demonstrate leadership by ensuring that the U.N.’s vast resources can be mobilized for the Venezuelan people in a way that is neutral, independent, and impartial.”

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