US accuses Venezuela’s Maduro of defying pressure to negotiate
Moscow is owed $3.1bn in sovereign debt by Venezuela
Washington — There are no signs that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is open to negotiations to end the political impasse with opposition leader Juan Guaido, Washington’s envoy for Venezuela says.
Elliott Abrams, who served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George W Bush, said any negotiated solution would need to be reached among Venezuelans, and that the US could help by lifting or easing US sanctions and travel restrictions once Maduro agrees to go.
Abrams, however, played down any possibility that the Venezuelan president is ready to talk about his exit.
“From everything we have seen, Maduro’s tactic is to stay put,” Abrams said on Friday.
About 56 countries have recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s interim head of state, but Maduro retains the backing of Russia and China, as well as control of state institutions including the military.
Moscow ‘ready’ for talks
Abrams has met Russian representatives to the US about Moscow’s support for Maduro. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier in March, after a phone call with US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, that Moscow is ready to take part in bilateral talks on Venezuela.
“The Russians are not happy with Maduro for all the obvious reasons,” Abrams said. “In a couple of conversations I have been told they have given advice to Maduro and he doesn’t take it. They continue to support him and there is no indication that I have seen that they are telling him it’s time to bring this to an end,” he said, adding: “There could come a point where the Russians reach a conclusion that the regime is really unsalvageable.”
Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Washington has called on foreign banks to ensure that Maduro and Venezuelan government officials are not hiding financial assets abroad. John Bolton, US national security adviser, threatened last week to impose sanctions against any financial institution that help Maduro.
“We are not going to get any co-operation on this from Russian banks, but I think every step we take makes it harder for the regime to steal money,” Abrams said.
Moscow is owed $3.1bn in sovereign debt by Venezuela and acted as a lender of last resort for Caracas, with the government and Russian oil giant Rosneft handing Venezuela at least $17bn in loans and credit lines since 2006.
Abrams said he has not yet spoken to Chinese government officials about Beijing’s support for Maduro, blaming scheduling issues. “We will do it,” Abrams said.
Referring to Cuba, the US envoy described it as “a parasite that has been feeding off Venezuela for decades” by taking its oil while offering intelligence and other protections for Maduro.
“There are thousands of Cuban officers, and literally, physically, around him. In some ways they are the key advisers to Maduro,” Abrams said of Havana’s role.
Communist-run Cuba has been a key backer of the Venezuelan socialist government since the Bolivarian revolution that began under former leader Hugo Chavez in 1998.
Cuba has denied it has security forces in Venezuela and said statements such as Abrams’s are part of a campaign of lies aimed at paving the way for US military intervention in the South American country.