Trump, Guaido To Meet Over Venezuela Crisis

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido speaks during a rally to commemorate May Day in Caracas/ AFP

 

US President Donald Trump will receive Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido on Wednesday for talks on how to speed a democratic transition in his country, the White House said.

Guaido, whom the United States and more than 50 other countries recognize as Venezuela’s acting president, is seeking renewed international support for his push to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

The Oval Office meeting at 2:15 pm (1915 GMT) follows Trump’s vow in a State of the Union speech Tuesday night — with Guaido in the audience as his guest — that “Maduro’s grip of tyranny will be smashed and broken.”

“The visit is an opportunity to reaffirm the commitment of the United States to the people of Venezuela and to discuss how we can work with President Guaido to expedite a democratic transition in Venezuela that will end the ongoing crisis,” the White House said in a statement.

“We will continue to work with our partners in the region to confront the illegitimate dictatorship in Venezuela, and we will stand alongside the Venezuelan people to ensure a future that is democratic and prosperous,” it said.

Maduro so far has weathered Guaido’s yearlong push for his ouster, which initially spark massive anti-government protest but has since lost momentum despite a deep economic crisis that has driven millions to emigrate.

As head of the National Assembly, Guaido proclaimed himself acting president in January 2019 after the legislature declared Maduro a “usurper” who was re-elected through fraud.

AFP

Venezuelan Opposition Leader To Attend World Economic Forum In Davos

Venezuelan opposition leader and self declared acting president Juan Guaido delivers a speech during the Venezuela Oil Industry Forum in Caracas on February 15, 2019.  Juan BARRETO / AFP

 

Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido will attend this week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, lawmaker Stalin Gonzalez told AFP on Monday.

Guiado is currently in Colombia where he is due to meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo but Gonzalez, a Guaido ally, said the parliament speaker will then head to Switzerland for the annual economic meeting that opens on Tuesday.

AFP

Guaido, Pompeo Meet In Colombia Over Venezuela Crisis

Venezuelan opposition leader and self-declared acting president Juan Guaido delivers a speech during the Venezuela Oil Industry Forum in Caracas on February 15, 2019.  Juan BARRETO / AFP

 

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido has traveled to Colombia to meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, an opposition lawmaker said Sunday.

Guaido’s move comes amid an overture by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro for direct negotiations with the United States on an end to crippling US sanctions.

Opposition lawmaker Stalin Gonzalez told AFP that Guaido, who is recognized by the United States and more than 50 other countries as Venezuela’s acting president, will meet in Bogota with Pompeo.

The US secretary of state is scheduled to arrive in the Colombian capital on Monday at the start of a Latin American tour.

Guaido has been barred from leaving Venezuela since proclaiming himself acting president a year ago after the National Assembly declared President Nicolas Maduro a “usurper.”

He defied the travel ban once before, in February 2016, when he secretly traveled to Colombia and then visited several other countries to marshal regional support for his challenge to Maduro.

The United States has been Guaido’s leading international supporter but the opposition bid to force Maduro’s ouster has stalled.

Guaido has headed the National Assembly for the past year but faced a challenge early this month from Maduro supporters over his re-election.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Maduro said he was comfortably in control and ready for direct negotiations with the United States.

“If there’s respect between governments, no matter how big the United States is, and if there’s a dialogue, an exchange of truthful information, then be sure we can create a new type of relationship,” Maduro told the Post.

The socialist leader said he was ready to hold talks with the US to negotiate an end to sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump intended to throttle the South American country’s oil industry and force Maduro from power.

Maduro indicated that, if Trump were to lift sanctions, US oil companies could benefit immensely from Venezuela’s oil.

“A relationship of respect and dialogue brings a win-win situation. A confrontational relationship brings a lose-lose situation. That’s the formula,” Maduro said.

AFP

 

US Threatens Sanctions On Venezuelan Lawmakers Over Bribes

President Donald Trump and Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guadio

 

The United States will consider sanctions against Venezuelan lawmakers accused of taking bribes to vote against opposition leader Juan Guaido, an official said Wednesday.

Guaido, recognized as Venezuela’s interim president by the United States and more than 50 other nations, was sworn in Tuesday for another term after a chaotic standoff in which troops physically stopped him from entering Congress.

The United States has already imposed wide sanctions aimed at toppling leftist President Nicolas Maduro’s regime and cutting off his government’s key funding source of oil.

Guaido and the United States say Maduro’s government offered bribes to members of the National Assembly, Venezuela’s sole institution controlled by the opposition, in hopes of defeating Guaido.

“There are people who have been engaged in corrupt activity that may have gotten themselves on the radar screen for the first time in the last few days,” a senior US official told reporters in Washington.

He said he was speaking of “people taking money from people that are already under sanctions in the United States.”

“We don’t put sanctions on people for the way they vote,” he said, adding that if individuals “aid or abet or profit from the anti-democratic behavior of the regime, you could be subjected to sanctions.”

Despite a crumbling economy that has sent millions fleeing Venezuela, Maduro remains in power with support from the country’s military as well as Russia, China, and Cuba.

The US is also “looking at additional sanctions” in response to growing Russian support for Maduro, Elliot Abrams, the State Department’s Venezuela envoy, said on Monday.

Re-Elected Venezuela Opposition Leader Guaido Calls For Protests

Venezuela’s National Assembly head Juan Guaido declares himself the country’s “acting president” during a mass opposition rally against leader Nicolas Maduro, on the anniversary of a 1958 uprising that overthrew the military dictatorship in Caracas on January 23, 2019. Federico PARRA / AFP

 

 

Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaido called Tuesday for three days of protests against President Nicolas Maduro, hours after he was sworn in for another term as National Assembly speaker following a standoff with the armed forces.

Guaido was barred from entering the assembly by the National Guard for around half an hour in dramatic and chaotic scenes, while a rival claimant to the speaker’s post occupied the chair.

“It’s time to stand up and to stand up with force,” Guaido said later during a press conference.

“We will mobilize for street protests on Thursday and Friday, and on Saturday we will all be in the streets.”

Guaido, self-appointed acting president of Venezuela, leads the opposition to leftist Maduro, who remains in power despite Guaido’s year-long effort to oust the man he calls a “usurper.”

The National Assembly legislature is the only branch of government in the opposition’s hands, and Guaido’s holding of the speaker’s post is important for the continuation of his struggle with Maduro.

Guaido is backed by the United States and more than 50 other countries but, despite Venezuela’s economic collapse, Maduro appears entrenched with crucial support from the armed forces. He is also backed by China, Russia, and Cuba.

“Here we are, showing our face,” Guaido said, taking his seat in the assembly after rival claimant Luis Parra and pro-government lawmakers left.

Blocked by troops

Lawmakers sang the national anthem but electricity to the chamber was cut off, leaving deputies to use flashlights on their mobile phones.

Guaido then raised his right hand and took the oath of office for another term as leader of the assembly.

Earlier, dozens of National Guard troops wearing helmets and carrying riot shields blocked Guaido from entering the building.

“These are not barracks!” Guaido shouted.

Some of his allies and members of the press were also blocked from getting inside.

The opposition said on Twitter that four lawmakers were injured by “regime minions.”

Parra, an opposition legislator accused of corruption, had declared himself speaker on Sunday after the armed forces had prevented Guaido from entering the building.

Guaido had declared Sunday that he was re-elected to his post after holding a legislative session alongside loyal deputies at the offices of a pro-opposition newspaper.

Crisis-hit Venezuela has been in political turmoil since last January when Guaido used his position as speaker to declare himself acting president in a direct challenge to the authority of Maduro.

The United States warned on Tuesday it could ramp up sanctions against Venezuela, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo congratulated Guaido on his re-election.

“The Maduro regime’s campaign of arrests, intimidation, and bribery could not derail Venezuelan democracy, nor could its use of military forces to physically bar the National Assembly from accessing the parliament building,” said Pompeo.

Speaking Tuesday on state broadcaster VTV, Maduro called Pompeo a “failed clown” for supporting Guaido, whose swearing-in as speaker was “a show.”

“The United States assumes it has the right to name the world’s legislatures with (their) threats,” he said.

And Maduro’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza tweeted that the US must “now assume that its strategy against Venezuela failed. They have not shown any skills as puppeteers and they lost their main puppet.”

Parra was kicked out of his opposition party last month after an online news site accused him of corruption linked to the over-pricing of food imported for the Maduro government.

He remains a deputy and Maduro recognized Parra’s election in a television address on Sunday. But even Maduro’s left-wing allies Argentina and Uruguay have denounced the move.

Assembly sidelined

Before Sunday’s vote, Guaido said the Maduro government had bribed some opposition deputies to vote against him.

The opposition holds 112 of the 167 seats in the assembly.

As well as two claimants to the presidency and the position of assembly speaker, Venezuela has two legislatures.

The National Assembly has been effectively sidelined since 2017, when the Supreme Court, made up of Maduro loyalists, declared it in contempt. The court has since annulled its every decision.

Maduro then controversially set up a Constituent Assembly — also made up exclusively of loyalists — with power to legislate in its place.

10 Killed As Riot Rocks Jail In Venezuela

 

 

Gang fighting at a jail in Venezuela left at least 10 inmates dead, an NGO reported Tuesday.

At least four grenades were detonated in clashes that began Monday evening in the northwestern state of Zulia, said the NGO, a human rights group called Una Ventana a la Libertad.

Venezuelan authorities have not said anything about a toll from the rioting, which the NGO said broke out at a jail which serves as a holding pen at a regional police headquarters.

Prisoners set fire to one wing of the facility, it said.

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It quoted local residents as saying explosions and then gunfire were heard starting late Monday, with the violence continuing overnight.

Zulia governor Omar Prieto said Monday that he is planning to close the detention center.

On December 23, an uprising at the jail left six people dead, the NGO said. One of those was shot by security forces, it added.

It said the jail holds about 1,000 inmates.

Venezuelan prisons suffer from severe overcrowding despite a 2011 plan to upgrade them.

Holding pens like the one in Zulia are full of detainees, who are not supposed to spend more than 48 hours there.

Nationwide, these facilities hold more than five times their capacity. Detainees suffer from violence, malnutrition and diseases such as tuberculosis, La Ventana a la Libertad said.

It said that in just the first half of 2019, 149 prisoners died in police holding pens, due to a variety of causes.

On May 24, a total of 29 inmates died during an attempted breakout from another such jail in the town of Acarigua in the western state of Portuguesa.

Clashes between prisoners and police left 19 officers injured in that incident.

El Salvador Dares Maduro, Expels Venezuela Diplomats

 

El Salvador ordered Venezuela’s diplomats to leave the country in a challenge to their president Nicolas Maduro, prompting his government to respond by expelling Salvadoran envoys in Caracas on Sunday.

El Salvador under its new President Nayib Bukele is one of more than 50 countries that have declared Maduro’s government in Venezuela illegitimate.

They have switched their recognition to his lead rival, national assembly speaker Juan Guaido, who has declared himself Venezuela’s acting president.

Bukele said El Salvador had ordered “the diplomatic corps from the regime of Nicolas Maduro” to leave the country within 48 hours, in a statement posted on his Twitter account late Saturday.

In response, the Venezuelan foreign ministry said in a statement on Sunday it had declared each of the Salvadoran diplomatic staff in Caracas “persona non grata” and gave them 48 hours to leave.

Maduro’s leftist government has jailed opposition leaders and is accused of using torture and arbitrary arrests as it struggles to hold on to power amid a collapsing economy.

But his government still has support from Russia and China.

Before his election in June, Bukele said he would maintain a “distant” relationship with Caracas and close ties with the United States, Maduro’s biggest diplomatic foes.

US Ambassador Ronald Johnson reacted warmly to El Salvador’s decision.

“We applaud the government of President Nayib Bukele for ensuring that El Salvador is on the right side of history,” he said on Twitter.

US President Donald Trump was one of the first leaders to recognize Guaido when the opposition leader mounted an unsuccessful bid to oust Maduro in April.

AFP

Venezuela Hails ‘Victory’ Over UN Human Rights Council Seat

 

Venezuela hailed its “victory” and celebrated an “important achievement” on Thursday after winning a seat on the UN Human Rights Council despite fierce criticism over its own record.

Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said the country would “celebrate a new victory for Bolivarian peace diplomacy,” in reference to the regime of socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

Attorney General Tarek William Saab described it as an “important achievement” while announcing the release of 24 detained opposition figures.

Venezuela Obtains Seat On UN Human Rights Council

 

Venezuela obtained a seat on the UN Human Rights Council Thursday despite criticism from advocacy groups and other Latin American countries that its own rights record is dismal.

To applause in the chamber, Venezuela got the nod in a vote by the UN General Assembly to choose 14 new members for the 47-member body based in Geneva.

In Caracas, the government of President Nicolas Maduro called this an “important achievement.”

AFP

Spain Rejects US Bid To Extradite Venezuela Ex-Intel Chief

 

A top Spanish court on Monday said it had denied a US request to extradite Venezuela’s former military intelligence chief on drug trafficking charges, instead ordering his release.

“The Audiencia National has denied the extradition of General Hugo Armando Carvajal,” said Spain’s top criminal court, which handles such requests.

The judges decided to release Carvajal, who served as head of military intelligence under the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez and has been held in provisional detention since his arrest in Madrid in mid-April.

Details of the full judgement will not be published until Tuesday, said the court which examined the case last week.

“We are very satisfied but out of prudence, we are not going to comment on the decision until we have the full judgement,” Carvajal’s lawyer Maria Dolores de Arguelles told AFP by telephone.

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“We only have the judgement on his release and I am personally going to the Estremera prison to tell him,” she said, indicating that he would be released from the facility on the outskirts of Madrid later in the day.

Known as “El Pollo” (the Chicken), Carvajal was stripped of his rank after coming out in support of Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s acting president in February.

He then fled by boat to the Dominican Republic before relocating to Spain where he was arrested in April.

Carvajal has long been sought by US Treasury officials who suspect him of providing support to drug trafficking by the FARC guerrilla group in Colombia.

In an indictment filed in New York in 2011, Carvajal was accused of coordinating the transport of more than 5.6 tonnes of cocaine from Venezuela to Mexico in 2006 that was ultimately destined for the United States.

If convicted, Carvajal could face between 10 years to life in prison, the US Justice Department said in April following his arrest.

Carvajal has denied any “links to drug trafficking and the FARC”, Spanish judicial sources said at the time.

Bolton Restrained Me On Venezuela, Says Trump

National Security Advisor John Bolton listens while US President Donald Trump speaks to the press before a meeting with Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC. 

 

President Donald Trump on Thursday warned that the exit of his hawkish national security advisor won’t bring a softening of the US position on Venezuela.

Bolton, a prominent hardliner in Washington’s attempt to pressure Venezuelan strongman President Nicolas Maduro from power, was sacked Tuesday.

This sparked speculation in some media outlets that Trump might seek a more conciliatory line.

However, the president indicated on Twitter that his policies could instead harden.

“In fact, my views on Venezuela, and especially Cuba, were far stronger than those of John Bolton. He was holding me back!” he said.

The United States already imposes sanctions on Venezuelan officials and its oil industry.

Washington has also recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as the legitimate president, but with little success in shifting Maduro’s grip on power.

Millions of Venezuelans have left the country as a result of political unrest and economic collapse, with food and medicinal supplies often scarce.

More than 50 countries recognize Guaido. However, Maduro still enjoys support from Russia, China and Cuba.

AFP

Venezuela Govt Seeks To Change Framework For Talks With Opposition

 

Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said Thursday the government would meet with Norwegian mediators in an effort to restart talks with the opposition aimed at resolving the country’s political crisis.

Arreaza told reporters in Caracas that the government was seeking changes to the talks mechanism before it would return to the negotiating table.

“There will be contact with the envoys and we will surely be able to reestablish the dialogue with a re-thought mechanism,” the foreign minister said.

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“We have to have a mechanism that guarantees peace and coexistence,” he added, but gave no details of the changes the government were seeking.

On Wednesday, opposition leader Juan Guaido revealed that Norwegian officials were in the country in a bid to restart the talks.

Negotiations to end the political crisis — sparked when Guaido pronounced himself acting president in January — began in Oslo in May.

But President Nicolas Maduro called off the talks a week ago in response to new United States sanctions against his government.

Arreaza insisted that Maduro had merely “implemented a pause” in the talks and that they had not broken down.

“We have not withdrawn from the process of dialogue with the political opposition,” said the minister, a key member of Maduro’s negotiating team.

Maduro’s administration says the opposition is divided between those who want a peaceful change of government and those who want a foreign military intervention.

Talks began in Oslo in May before being moved to Barbados where several rounds have been held since the start of July.

In addition to the political standoff, Venezuela is suffering one of the worst economic crises in its history with a quarter of its 30 million population in need of aid, according to the United Nations.