Pompeo prioritizes Venezuela crisis on Latin American tour

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, center, is greeted, at his arrival to "Palacio de Lopez", in Asuncion, Paraguay, Saturday, April 13, 2019. Pompeo is in the second of four countries' tour that includes Chile, Peru and Colombia to address, mainly, the crisis in Venezuela. At left Gen. Roque Alberto Sotelo military cabinet chief and at right ambassador Federico Gonzalez.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo waves upon his arrival to the Silvio Pettirossi international airport, in Asuncion, Paraguay, Friday, April 12, 2019. Pompeo met Friday with Chile's president to address, mainly, the vast crisis that afflicts Venezuela in the first round of a tour that includes Paraguay, Peru and Colombia. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, listens to Paraguay's President Mario Abdo Benitez, during official meeting at "Palacio de Lopez", in Asuncion, Paraguay, Saturday, April 13, 2019. Pompeo is in the second of four countries' tour that includes Chile, Peru and Colombia to address, mainly, the crisis in Venezuela. On the wall is a paint of National Hero Marshal Francisco Solano Lopez. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, smiles for a picture with Paraguay's President Mario Abdo Benitez, during official meeting at "Palacio de Lopez", in Asuncion, Paraguay, Saturday, April 13, 2019. Pompeo is in the second of four countries' tour that includes Chile, Peru and Colombia to address, mainly, the crisis in Venezuela. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo deplanes at the Silvio Pettirossi international airport, in Asuncion, Paraguay, Friday, April 12, 2019. Pompeo met Friday with Chile's president to address, mainly, the vast crisis that afflicts Venezuela in the first round of a tour that includes Paraguay, Peru and Colombia. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

ASUNCION, Paraguay — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on Saturday a "tyrant" who has caused the ruin of the South American country and its people.

Pompeo made the comment during a four-day Latin American tour that brought him to the Paraguayan capital of Asuncion, where he talked with President Mario Abdo Benítez about the economic and political crisis in Venezuela, strengthening democracy in the region and combating transnational crime.

"Look no further than the current crisis in Venezuela to see our teamwork in action. Together, we are working to restore stability and democracy from the chaos caused by Maduro," he said.

"As a member of the Lima Group, Paraguay stands among the leaders in our hemisphere in defense of democracy, in calling out Maduro for what he truly is — a power-hungry tyrant who has brought ruin to his country and to his people."

Pompeo also said that Paraguay was a partner in U.S. efforts to oust socialist Maduro and replace him with opposition leader Juan Guaido, whose claim to be interim president has been backed by dozens of countries.

Hyperinflation, shortages of food and medicine and other hardships have forced more than 3 million Venezuelans — about one-tenth of the population — to flee the South American country in the last few years. Paraguay broke diplomatic relations with Caracas in 2018, and the Venezuelan crisis has been the central theme of Pompeo's four-country Latin American tour.

On Friday, he met with Chile's President Sebastián Piñera in the Chilean capital of Santiago, where he said China's financing of the Venezuelan government of Maduro was prolonging the country's crisis.

He is traveling to Peru before making a final stop in the Colombian border town of Cucuta on Sunday to meet with representatives of Venezuelan refugees.

On Saturday, Pompeo also said that it was imperative to "take down" criminal organizations which have been active in the tri-border area where Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay converge, and he noted the U.S. arrest and extradition of individuals linked to Lebanon's militant Hezbollah movement.

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