SAO PAULO – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence pledged Wednesday that the United States would support Venezuelans who have fled their homeland until "democracy is restored" in the South American country after meeting with migrants in Brazil.
While visiting a shelter in the Amazonian city of Manaus, Pence said he spoke to one man who told him that it took a week of work in Venezuela to make enough to feed his family for one day. Another family spoke of choosing between sending their children to school or buying food and medicine. During the visit, some kids showed drawings they had done to Pence and his wife Karen. The second lady offered one child a soccer ball and gave crayons to another.
The shelter behind the Santa Catarina church houses about 120 people and opened a month ago in order to help cope with the flood of tens of thousands of Venezuelans into Brazil. Venezuela's economy is in a deep depression and shortages of food and medicine have forced 2 million people to leave to country.
"I'm here to bring a message on behalf of President Donald Trump and the American people," Pence told both Venezuelan migrants and local Brazilians who packed the church after the visit. "We are with you, we stand with you, and we will keep standing with you until democracy is restored in Venezuela."
Pence also hammered away at Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose "failed leadership" he said had caused the crisis.
On Tuesday, after meeting with Brazilian President Michel Temer, Pence announced that the United States would give nearly $10 million more to support Venezuelan migrants, $1.2 million of which will go to Brazil.
But the Trump administration also wants to further isolate the socialist government of Maduro, who recently won a second term in an election condemned as illegitimate by the U.S. and other foreign governments. It has asked Brazil and other countries in the region to ramp up pressure on Maduro.
Later Wednesday, Pence was to bring that message to Ecuador. But before leaving Brazil, Pence was taking a helicopter tour over the Amazon rainforest.
In his speech at the church, Pence drew a contrast between the Venezuelans who have fled economic and political turmoil and people who have attempted to immigrate to the United States.
"Back in our country we face a crisis on our southern border as many seek to come into America for a better life," Pence said. "The families that Karen and I met today who have fled from Venezuela came here to Brazil not to seek a better life; they came here to live, to survive. And the families we spoke to today told us again and again how you desire to return to Venezuela and restore freedom in your land."
On Tuesday, Pence told Central Americans, which make up many of those trying to enter the U.S. from Mexico, that they should not attempt to enter the U.S. illegally.