U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Wednesday the opening of an interim diplomatic office to Venezuela based in Colombia.
It is located at the U.S. embassy in Bogota and will continue "the U.S. mission to the legitimate Government of Venezuela and to the Venezuelan people," Pompeo said in a statement.
The Venezuela Affairs Unit "will continue to work for the restoration of democracy and the constitutional order in that country, and the security and well-being of the Venezuelan people," the top diplomat added.
It will interact with representatives aligned with Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaido who declared himself interim president Jan. 23, sparking a standoff with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro that continues to persist.
Venezuela had already been rocked by political and social unrest since Jan. 10 when Maduro was sworn in for a second term following a vote boycotted by the opposition amid a dire economic crisis in the Latin American nation.
The diplomatic mission will fall under Charge d’Affaires James Story, Pompeo said.
The Trump administration has been focusing on economic and diplomatic measures against Maduro, including imposing sanctions on him, his top officials and several governmental departments as it seeks to ramp up pressure on him to step down.
After imposing sweeping sanctions on Venezuela's state-owned oil firm PDVSA in January, U.S. President Donald Trump issued an executive order earlier this month freezing all assets in the U.S. belonging to the Venezuelan government in a significant escalation of tensions with Caracas.
Trump's order prohibits all transactions with Venezuelan officials but exempts humanitarian assistance to Venezuela, including transactions related to the provision of food, clothing and medicine.
Maduro has instead accused the U.S. of orchestrating a coup against his government, saying he is open to dialogue with the opposition.
Nearly 5,000 people leave Venezuela every day because of "instability and uncertainty" amid a crisis over the presidency and economy, and 3 million Venezuelans have already left the country since 2015, according to the UN's refugee agency.
Russia, China and Iran have thrown their weight behind Maduro, as has Turkey.
Spain, Britain, France, Sweden, Germany, Japan and Denmark joined the U.S., Canada and most Latin American countries in recognizing Guaido as Venezuela’s interim leader.
By Michael Hernandez in Washinton D.C.