Pence says U.S. won't stand by as Venezuela 'crumbles'

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos greets U.S. Vice President Mike Pence after his arrival in Cartagena, Colombia, on Aug. 13, 2017.. Photo by Colombian Presidency via Reuters

CARTAGENA, Colombia — Seeking to highlight the growing plight in Venezuela, Vice President Mike Pence on Monday met with people who've fled the country to neighboring Colombia.

Pence visited the Calvary Chapel in Cartagena, where met with faith leaders and Venezuelan families before planning to depart to Buenos Aires, Argentina. His wife, Karen Pence, helped to lead a prayer circle, where she prayed for "comfort to the Venezuelan refugees."

The vice president and his wife also spent time speaking with the migrants, listening to their emotional stories. Reporters were not able to hear their conversations, but watched the vice president comfort several women, including at least one who was seen wiping away tears.

He said he heard "heartbreaking" stories of their struggle for food.

"President Trump's made it very clear we will not stand by while Venezuela collapses into dictatorship," Pence said, arguing that "a failed state in Venezuela threatens the security and prosperity of our entire hemispheres and the people of the United States."

Pence is trying to rally the region against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's attempts to consolidate power. Pence on Sunday denounced Maduro's tactics and said the U.S. will not stand by as Venezuela "crumbles."

Venezuelan officials have been firing back in a series of statements, with Information Minister Ernest Villegas denouncing U.S. meddling in Venezuela's affairs as hypocritical on Twitter Monday.

"The US and its satellite in Bogota are trying to give classes in democracy to Venezuela while it provides cover for neo-Nazis in its own territory," Villegas wrote, linking to photos of the recent deadly march in Charlottesville, Virginia involving far-right groups.

Asked whether the U.S. would commit additional financial aid for those migrating from Venezuela, Pence said only that the U.S. "has a long and storied history of generosity with regard to refugees populations and it's happening here in Colombia."

The Trump administration has pushed to reduce the number of refugees allowed in the U.S. as well as money spent on foreign aid.

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