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  • Reginald Andrew

US to Maduro, Guaido: Step Aside

Proposes transitional government for Venezuela

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro and Russia's ambassador in Venezuela Sergey Melik-Bagdasarov, touch their elbows while wearing masks due to coronavirus disease while (COVID-19) outbreak at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela March 30

The Trump administration on Tuesday offered to lift tough sanctions against Venezuela if both President Nicolás Maduro and his political nemesis, opposition leader Juan Guaidó, step aside and agree to a transitional government guided by both the ruling socialists and opposition lawmakers, U.S. officials said.

The plan, announced as Venezuelans, saddled with a broken health care system, are in grave danger from the global coronavirus pandemic, is the first road map to relief from some of the harshest sanctions ever imposed by the United States. It echoes a proposal sketched out in broad strokes by Guaidó on Friday. It amounts to power-sharing deal that would guarantee Maduro’s socialists — if not Maduro himself — a seat at the table of a transitional government.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said U.S. sanctions would be lifted only after a transitional government had been established and “foreign security forces” — an apparent reference to Cuba’s tactical agents on the ground — had left Venezuela

“We hope that every Venezuelan will consider this framework,” he said at a news conference.

Washington is facing calls from U.N. Secretary General António Guterres and others to ease economic sanctions in the midst of the pandemic. Maduro’s attempts to win an emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund to fight the coronavirus have been rejected based on his contested status as Venezuela’s head of state.

Maduro has not hinted at any willingness to leave power, and the U.S. offer seems unlikely to change that as long as his inner circle and military backing holds. Analysts say the U.S. indictments last week of the 57-year-old authoritarian leader and several other government officials on narcoterrorism charges could encourage his inner circle to close ranks around him.

The proposal was anything but an olive branch to Maduro. It appeared instead to be a message aimed at his fellow socialists, as well as the military power structure, that they could defuse Venezuela’s long political crisis and hold on to some power if they turned against him.

Venezuela's National Assembly President and opposition leader Juan Guaido, who many nations have recognised as the country's rightful interim ruler, raises an arm as he takes part in a demonstration in Caracas, Venezuela ...

Doing so, U.S. officials argued, would end the toxic mix of a broken economy, political repression and a mounting pandemic that has plunged Venezuela into a deep national malaise. U.S. officials have suggested as much to key Maduro supporters through back channels, but had never done so publicly until the proposal Tuesday.

In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Elliott Abrams, the U.S. special representative to Venezuela, wrote that “the U.S. doesn’t support any particular political party in Venezuela. We support a return to democracy and believe that every party — including the regime’s party, the PSUV — should be able to compete on a level playing field in free and fair elections.”

The Trump administration has strongly backed Guaidó, the president of the opposition-led National Assembly, who declared Maduro a usurper last year after tainted elections and himself Venezuela’s rightful leader. In the months since, Washington has ratcheted up pressure on Maduro — severing diplomatic ties, blocking the government from U.S. financial markets and imposing a crippling oil embargo that has accelerated a collapse of the nation’s most important source of income. U.S. officials backed a failed plot by the opposition last April to oust Maduro by turning leading members of his government against him.

Guaidó outlined a similar plan, suggesting the opposition must be prepared to share power. He said he could bring in $1.2 billion in international aid if an “emergency government” could be formed.

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