Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed the ongoing crisis in Venezuela on Russia and Cuba, which he accused of dashing the "democratic dreams of the Venezuelan people" through a series of measures meant to foment continued unrest and provide cover to embattled strongman Nicolas Maduro.
Pompeo, in wide-ranging remarks to the press at the State Department, described Russia and Cuba as creating "a match from Hell" in Venezuela, where these countries continue to prop up Maduro and interfere with a series of aid packages spearheaded by the United States in the Trump administration's bid to see Interim President Juan Guaido assume power.
"This story is not complete without acknowledging the central role Cuba and Russia have played and continue to play in undermining the democratic dreams of the Venezuelan people and their welfare," Pompeo said, in some of his strongest and most direct comments to date on the situation.
Cuba and Russia, he said, continue to enable Maduro's most oppressive tactics, such as the torture and imprisonment of opposition figures, and are providing him with cover in international forums like the United Nations, where Russia recently blocked a measure to empower and aid opposition leaders looking to take down Maduro.
Pompeo laid the blame for the growing humanitarian crisis on Russian and Cuban interventionism.
"No nation has done more to sustain the death and daily misery of ordinary Venezuelans, including Venezuela's military and their families, than the communists in Havana," Pompeo said, refuting claims the United States has helped manufacture the crisis. "Cuba is the true imperialist power in Venezuela."
"The Cuban government of Miguel Diaz-Canel provides political cover for Maduro and his henchmen so that they may stay in power. It's Cuba that has offered Maduro its unwavering solidarity. It's Cuba that calls Venezuela's true government, led by Interim President Juan Guaido, which 54 of the world's democratic nations recognize as a legitimate government—the Cubans call this a puppet government of the United States," he said.
Cuba also is responsible for training and emboldening Maduro's team of secret police.
"It's Cuba that's trained Venezuelans' secret police and torture tactics, domestic spying techniques, and mechanisms of repression the Cuban authorities have wielded against their own people for decades," he said. "Members of the Cuban military and intelligence services are deeply entrenched in the Venezuelan state. Cuban security forces have displaced Venezuelan security forces in a clear violation of Venezuelan sovereignty."
Pompeo said Maduro "has no Venezuelans around him" at this point.
"Many of his personal security and closest advisers are acting not at the direction of the Venezuelan people, and frankly, perhaps not even at the direction of Maduro, but rather at the direction of the Cuban regime," he said. "They provide physical protection and other critical material and political support to Maduro and to those around him."
"So when there's no electricity, thank the marvels of modern Cuban-led engineering," Pompeo said. "When there's no water, thank the excellent hydrologists from Cuba. When there's no food, thank the Cuban communist overlords."
Cuba, like Russia, has a vested interest in keeping Maduro in power and solidifying socialist rule in the country. Cuba relies on Venezuela for around 50,000 barrels of oil a day.
"The two nations also share a feature: a deeply corrupt ruling class," Pomepo said. "Maduro learned from the Castros that the best way to stay in power is to buy enough generals to protect you and make sure that the only way to be rich, or even to avoid poverty, is to feed off the regime and stay in its good graces."
Pivoting to Russia's role in the conflict, Pompeo accused Moscow of undermining Venezuela's burgeoning democratic movement in order to retain its power in the oil rich country.
"Russia, too, has created this crisis," Pompeo said. "It, too, for its own reasons is thwarting the Venezuelan people's legitimate democratic hopes and their dreams."
"It's Russia that vetoed the UN-sponsored resolution on Venezuela in the Security Council on February 28," he noted. "This UN Security Council resolution called for unhindered access in delivery of assistance to all those in need and supported the restoration of democracy and the rule of law in Venezuela. It's Russia that chose, rather than supporting this noble goal, it instead put forward its own resolution that served no purpose other than to bolster the illegitimate Maduro regime."
Russia's propaganda outlets have been operating at full steam to help rally international support for Maduro and thwart U.S. aid programs for the democratic opposition.
In this pursuit, "Russia has also used its state-sponsored disinformation organs like Russia Today and Sputnik to divert attention from the humanitarian disaster of the Maduro regime," Pompeo said.
Russia has investments in Venezuela totaling more than $17 billion, including in the country's lucrative oil and gold markets. The United States has moved to sanction these entities in recent weeks.
"Russian companies continue to this day to try to help the Maduro regime turn the country's gold reserves into cash, further squandering the assets of the Venezuelan people, assets they will need to rebuild their future," Pompeo said, adding that Moscow's oil companies also continue to defy U.S. sanctions.
"The nations that support Maduro are, by the nature of this illegitimate regime, carrying out the very foreign interventionism of which they accuse others," he said. "Today, the United States is drawing a clear line between those who aid the forces of repression and those who give life to the Venezuelan people's democratic dreams."