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VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb and Jorge Agobian of VOA's Spanish Service contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON — In a speech intended to offer carrots and display sticks, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announced the lifting of sanctions on Venezuela's former intelligence service, warned the 25 magistrates of the country's supreme court of possible punishment and reiterated "all options are the table" to remove President Nicolas Maduro.
The audience inside the U.S. State Department for the annual Washington Conference on the Americas remained silent when Pence alluded to possible military action.
The vice president did prompt applause at other moments in his speech when he vowed the United States would stand with the people of Venezuela until "libertad" is restored.
Pence faults Cuba, Russia, Iran
The Pentagon is also dispatching the USNS Comfort, a military hospital ship, to the region in June for five months to offer medical care to Venezuelan refugees and others, Pence confirmed.
The U.S. Treasury Department on Tuesday removed sanctions on General Manuel Figuera, who headed the SEBIN intelligence agency and has switched sides. He was among about 150 officials and businesses sanctioned as part of a U.S. effort to weaken support for Maduro.
Besides blaming Maduro for Venezuela's political and economic woes, the U.S. vice president, in his speech, also pointed fingers at Cuba, Russia and Iran for helping keeping Hugo Chavez's successor in power.
"No one has done more to support the corrupt Maduro regime than Cuba," Pence said. "The people of Venezuela are essentially Cuba's hostage."
Russia is seeking a foothold in the Western Hemisphere through Venezuela, according to Pence.
Iran, Pence claimed, is working with Venezuela to "establish a safe haven for its terrorist proxies."
In response to the Trump administration's stance, U.S. Representative Darren Soto, a Democrat, is expressing support for "a wide range of actions, including incentives to encourage the Venezuelan military to rise up against the tyrannical Maduro regime."
The Florida congressman also is calling on the Trump administration to support legislation "to provide Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelans and stop deportations for those here in the U.S."
The United States has recognized National Assembly and opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela's interim president and its officials have repeatedly insisted Maduro must resign.
Most Western nations have followed Washington's lead.
The Guaido-led legislature said it planned to debate a proposal Tuesday for Venezuela to re-enter a Cold-War era regional defense agreement that it withdrew from years ago. A vote to re-enter the U.S.-led treaty could bolster U.S. efforts to oust Maduro.
Venezuela is mired in an economic crisis, with inflation exceeding 1 million percent and citizens being forced to do without essential goods and services.
Guaido last week tried to provoke a military revolt to force Maduro from office, but the attempt failed as most of the armed forces remain loyal to Maduro.
"The United States will not let a free Venezuela fail," Pence vowed in his speech Tuesday.
Steve Herman is VOA's White House Bureau Chief.