Tensions between US and Venezuela escalate after Maduro Ally's extradition

WASHINGTON – Just a few months ago, difficult relations between the United States and Venezuela appeared to be improving. President Bid...

WASHINGTON – Just a few months ago, difficult relations between the United States and Venezuela appeared to be improving.

President Biden had softened a pressure campaign launched by the Trump administration, abandoning threats to oust President Nicolás Maduro with military power. New negotiations between Mr. Maduro and his political opponents raised hopes of a breakthrough. European officials were consider canceling financial sanctions against Venezuela if local elections across the country scheduled for November prove to be free and fair.

Then on Saturday, Alex Saab, a close advisor to Mr. Maduro, was extradited to the United States on money laundering charges and ties to Hezbollah, and the window of opportunity for a political resolution has closed – at least for now.

Mr. Maduro immediately canceled negotiations and detained six U.S. oil executives, derailing any glimmer of rapprochement as Venezuela’s economy crumbles and its people suffer from violence, poverty and sickness.

“The American Empire, violating all international laws, took a Venezuelan diplomat”, Mr. Maduro said the state-funded Telesur satellite TV channel on Sunday.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken noted that the criminal case against Mr. Saab had been going on for more than a decade and was unrelated to the desire for rapprochement between Venezuela’s political factions.

“It is deeply regrettable that the Maduro regime has withdrawn from talks in Mexico,” Blinken told reporters in Quito, Ecuador, where he was discussing Venezuela and other regional and security issues during his first meeting. visit to South America as Secretary of State.

“But I think it also indicates, unfortunately, that Mr. Maduro puts his personal interests ahead of the interests of the Venezuelan people,” Blinken said.

Protecting democracy and fighting corruption are two cornerstones of Mr. Biden’s foreign agenda, and State Department officials have said he is particularly concerned about threats to both in Latin America. as authoritarian rulers encroach on the backyard countries of the United States. Mr Blinken will also be visiting this week Colombia, who, like Ecuador, fought against government oppression or used brutal tactics against its citizens.

Officials said Blinken should not focus on Maduro, or other strongmen in Cuba and Nicaragua, during a speech Wednesday to promote human rights and civil liberties in the region.

But the schedule of his trips, on Mr. Saab’s heels court appearance Monday in Miami, will send an unequivocal message about the limits of America’s patience with Mr. Maduro’s government.

Mr. Maduro, however, has shown resilience.

He resisted American sanctions on his personal property and that of at least 160 of his allies since January 2019, according to the Congressional Research Service. Over 1,000 people in his government have been denied access to the United States. And the Trump administration has imposed an economic embargo on Venezuela, depriving it of what John R. Bolton, the former White House national security adviser, said. would represent $ 11 billion in oil export revenues in a single year.

With help from China, Russia and Cuba, Maduro’s grip on power looks stronger than ever, and his government said on Monday it sign a 20-year economic pact with Iran.

At the same time, some Latin American and Caribbean states withdrew from a diplomatic coalition known as the Lima group, who opposed Mr. Maduro’s declaration of victory in a widely contested presidential election in 2018.

Argentina resigned from the Lima Group in March, followed by Saint Lucia in August, while Peru and Mexico either criticized the alliance or refused to participate. Senior Mexican officials even gave Mr. Maduro a warm welcome last month when he attended a conference of regional states in Mexico.

Political negotiations, also held in Mexico City, were seen as a possible path to a resolution. Diplomats from two Latin American countries said Maduro had agreed to participate in the hopes that the talks would lead to the lifting of some US or EU sanctions and ease Venezuela’s financial crisis.

In return, foreign diplomats demanded that Mr. Maduro ensure that the local elections scheduled for November 21 are freer from government interference than in the past – and pledge to hold an even more open presidential election and inclusive in the years to come.

European Union officials dispatched to Venezuela to monitor the November 21 vote will judge its validity “as much as possible,” said Josep Borrell Fontelles, EU foreign policy chief.

Mr Borrell, speaking to a small group of reporters in Washington last week, also said the election would not be tied to sanctions relief, but Mr Maduro’s government had given assurances that European observers would have access to the polls and would be allowed to report their findings without being censored.

US officials viewed the vote with much more skepticism.

Assistant Secretary of State Brian A. Nichols, who oversees U.S. policy for the Western Hemisphere, said several issues, including the disqualification and detention of some candidates and limitations on the media, were among the challenges of the ‘opposition to compete’ on an equal footing. . “

“So these factors need to be taken into account – not just what happens on election day,” Nichols said on Monday.

The United States still considers Juan Guaidó, the former head of the Venezuelan National Assembly who assisted President Donald J. Trump’s final State of the Union address in 2020, as interim leader of Venezuela. At the start of this year, the European Union said no.

A group of opposition parties he leads, called the Unitary Platform, decided in August to end a three-year election boycott organized by Mr. Maduro and participate in the November vote. At the time, the group said the decision was difficult but motivated by an “urgency to find permanent solutions.”

The group hoped that a relatively high turnout from opposition candidates would show Mr Maduro’s weakness and mobilize citizens, even if those candidates did not win many gubernatorial races.

Yet in an interview on Thursday, Mr Guaidó said he had so little faith in the legitimacy of the November vote that he would not go to the polls, noting that some political parties continue to be illegal, many voters have had their registrations disabled. , and many opponents of Mr. Maduro have been imprisoned and tortured by his government.

“For us to call them ‘elections’ in advance would be a mistake,” Guaidó said.

Yet he and his allies continue to give at least some support to the elections, which he called the November “event”, and have said it remains an opportunity to “mobilize our people” and “prepare. to the possibility of an election in which Maduro leaves. “

In Venezuela, the big question is who will win the majority of votes in November: Mr. Maduro or the fractured opposition.

If the opposition gets noticed, Maduro may not return to the negotiating table in Mexico, said Igor Cuotto, a Venezuelan expert in political conflict resolution.

But if Mr Maduro wins big, he could try to resume talks and push for an end to sanctions, this time claiming to have an even stronger hand, Mr Cuotto added.

Even so, Mr Borrell signaled that he did not expect the November 21 vote to go smoothly.

“It is certain that the political system in Venezuela is as it is,” he said. “The elections will not be like in Switzerland.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Tensions between US and Venezuela escalate after Maduro Ally's extradition
Tensions between US and Venezuela escalate after Maduro Ally's extradition
Newsrust - US Top News
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