SANTIAGO (Chile) • United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has taken direct aim at China and Russia on the first leg of a four-country trip to South America, saying the two countries' military and economic influence in the region was abetting authoritarian leaders and spreading corruption.
"China's bankrolling of (Venezuela's) regime helped precipitate and prolong the crisis in that country," Mr Pompeo said in an address at a convention centre in Santiago, Chile's capital, last Friday.
"Russia, as everyone knows, also has longstanding ties to authoritarian leaders in Cuba and Nicaragua."
Mr Pompeo lashed out at the two long-time adversaries as the Trump administration seeks to topple President Nicolas Maduro and grow a coalition of countries supporting opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Chile, a long-time US ally and pointed critic of the Maduro regime, has stood strongly with US efforts against Venezuela. But analysts have warned that as the humanitarian crisis worsens, millions more Venezuelan refugees could sow divisions among US and Latin American allies.
The US opposes any dialogue with the Maduro regime and has tried to enforce that line among members of the Lima Group regional bloc addressing the situation.
Chilean Foreign Minister Roberto Ampuero has hinted that as the crisis deepens, he could be more open to alternative outreach efforts.
During an interview on his plane last Thursday, Mr Pompeo doubted that Mr Ampuero or any other key allies would seek dialogue with Mr Maduro.
"Look, everybody's looking for the thing that will ultimately deliver democracy for the Venezuelan people. I am. So is he," said Mr Pompeo, referring to Mr Ampuero. "No one thinks that having a conversation about Maduro participating in an election makes any sense at all."
As the continent takes a rightward shift politically, Mr Pompeo applauded anti-corruption efforts and economic reform in Argentina, Peru, Colombia and Brazil.
He specifically cited the populist victory of Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro. "Brazil's citizens said 'enough is enough' to the corrupt ruling class. They had seen, through scandal, how rotten their government had become," he said.