The Trump administration yesterday unveiled a proposal for the lifting of Venezuela sanctions in exchange for creation of a power-sharing transitional government made up of members of the opposition and President Nicolas Maduro’s Socialist Party.
With the South American nation squeezed by low world oil prices, a spreading coronavirus pandemic and a US economic pressure campaign, Washington shifted to a more toned-down approach aimed at promoting fair elections as soon as this year to end the political crisis there.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo formally announced the administration’s “Democratic Transition Framework” for Venezuela, which offers for the first time a “sequenced exit path” from tough US sanctions, including on the vital oil sector, if Maduro and his allies cooperate.
But it will be no easy task to draw Maduro onto a path of political reconciliation.
He holds onto power despite escalation of US efforts to oust him and has shown no willingness to seriously negotiate an end to his rule.
The initiative comes less than a week after the US government took a more confrontational tack, indicting Maduro and more than a dozen other current and former top Venezuelan officials on charges of “narco-terrorism,” accusations he dismissed as false and racist.
Maduro’s staying power has become a source of frustration for President Donald Trump, US officials have said privately.
Maduro retains the backing of the military as well as Russia, China and Cuba.
But the Trump administration hopes the growing coronavirus threat will help make Maduro and his loyalists more pliable.
“The regime is now under heavier pressure than it has ever been,” US Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams told Reuters. “Maybe this pressure will lead to a serious discussion within the regime.”
The US proposal, which Abrams said was approved by Trump, calls for Maduro to “step aside” and for the opposition-controlled National Assembly “to elect an inclusive transitional government acceptable to the major factions.” This council of state would govern until it oversees elections, which Pompeo said the US hoped could be held in six to 12 months.
But in what appears to be a softening of tone toward Maduro, Abrams told Reuters the plan did not call for him to be forced into exile and even suggested that he “could theoretically run” in the election.
“If the conditions of the framework are met, including the departure of all foreign security forces,” Pompeo told reporters, “then all remaining US sanctions would be lifted.”
Venezuela’s information ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Meanwhile opposition leader Juan Guaido has urged President Nicolas Maduro to accept the US’ proposal to set up a transitional government in exchange for the lifting of sanctions, saying it is “the only option to overcome the crisis.”
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