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Venezuela's U.S. plan: Maduro and Guaido to step aside, a “Council ” to call elections

Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeoduring
said Tuesday in a briefing to the press that credible elections after the transitional government took power could pave the way for the U.S. to drop all sanctions.

- Plan seeks to ease path toward national elections in Venezuela
- Pompeo says Maduro would never be allowed to rule again

By Ethan Bronner and Nick Wadhams/Bloomberg

WASHINGTON
Petroleumworld 04 01 2020

The U.S. called on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido to step aside and allow a transitional government to take power and set up new elections, a shift in strategy aimed at breaking a political stalemate in the country.

With previous U.S. efforts to oust Maduro stalled, the Trump administration's special representative to Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said Tuesday that credible elections after the transitional government took power could pave the way for the U.S. to drop all sanctions.

Abrams and Pompeo both said their support for Guaido remains undiminished. Pompeo called him Venezuela's most popular politician, and Abrams said Guaido remains the country's “legitimate interim president” and would probably win elections if they take place some nine to 12 months from now. But he said that for the sake of the transitional government's legitimacy, Guaido shouldn't be part of it.

“We want Guaido to be free to run for president,” Abrams told reporters. “Under our plan, he is, and according to the polls I've seen, he's very likely to win.”

The U.S. effort appears to be aimed at trying to isolate Maduro by providing a road map for his party and some people around him to survive politically. It even promises an end to sanctions threats against members of his government based on their positions, though not for those accused of crimes such as drug trafficking.

The initiative has parallels to one laid out by Guaido over the weekend to deal with the twin scourges of the coronavirus pandemic and collapsed state income due to the global oil price rout.

Under the proposal, all sides would agree to the creation of a transitional “Council of State” that would run the country for nine to 12 months and set up the new elections.

Hours after the U.S. unveiled the plan, Maduro's government rejected it. Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said Venezuela is an independent country and no “false agreement” will distract it from its job.

In a subsequent phone call with reporters, Abrams said that response was entirely predictable and mostly beside the point.

“The plan is not so much an effort to change Nicolas Maduro's mind as it is an effort to appeal to everyone else in Venezuela to change his mind for him,” Abrams said.

Guaido has been the centerpiece of the Trump administration's efforts to oust Maduro for more than a year, but that effort has struggled to gain traction even after the U.S. rallied dozens of nations behind its initiative.

 

Read More: Putin fights U.S. sanctions on Rosneft with new russian state firm in Venezuela

Even as it unveils revisions to its approach, the U.S. continues to increase pressure on the Maduro regime through indictments and more sanctions. Pressed about whether Maduro could run and win a future election, Abrams pointed to opinion polls putting Maduro's support at no greater than 15% and said such an outcome was highly unlikely.

Going further, Pompeo indicated the U.S. wouldn't let Maduro become president again under any circumstance.

“We've made clear all along that Nicolas Maduro will never again govern Venezuela,” Pompeo said at the news briefing.

Read More: Venezuela's Maduro wanted by U.S. on drugs charges with $15 million reward

Less than a week ago, the U.S. Justice Department indicted Maduro and more than a dozen of his close aides on drug trafficking and money laundering charges and put up million of dollars as rewards to those who help bring about their arrests and convictions.

Yet Maduro has hung on so far with continued support from the country's military.

In a Tuesday morning article in the Wall Street Journal, Abrams called on the military to shift its role away from repressing its people, expel Cuban intelligence agents and support the transition. He also called for a new electoral council and supreme court and the reestablishment of a free press.

The envoy argued that, despite the U.S. having backed Guaido for the past 14 months, it has never supported any particular party in Venezuela.

Still, it represents a shift in strategy by the Trump administration, which had predicted after throwing its support behind Guaido more than a year ago that Maduro would remain in power only for weeks, not months. Yet Maduro has taken an increasingly menacing tone toward the opposition.

On Monday evening, he warned of a “knock-knock” operation during a televised address, during which authorities will round up “terrorists” in the coming days to make them “face justice.” By Tuesday morning, Venezuela's public prosecutor had cited Guaido to appear before his office on Thursday regarding an investigation of an alleged plot to assassinate Maduro.

— With assistance by Patricia Laya, and Nicolle Yapur


Story by Ethan Bronner and Nick Wadhams from Bloomberg

bloomberg.com
03 31 2020

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