Venezuela rejects a U.S. offer to ease sanctions in exchange for transitional government

MIAMI – Venezuela’s Secretary of State rejected Tuesday’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s proposal to lift sanctions if they accept a plan for a transitional government.

“The Bolivarian government affirmed that Venezuela will not or will never accept guardianship from a foreign government,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza tweeted.

The “Democratic Framework for Venezuela” outlined by Pompeo is similar to a plan that opposition leader Juan Guaidó proposed last weekend. It would consist of a government made up of the opposition and some members of President Nicolás Maduro’s Socialist Party.

Elected members of the National Assembly, who represent both sides, would create a State Council for a transitional government until presidential and national assembly elections can be held. “We hope in 6 to 12 months,” said Pompeo during a press conference.

The interim government president could not stand in these elections.

The announcement comes as the United States and other groups are asking the United States to ease sanctions against Venezuela as the coronavirus spreads across the country. Many are concerned about the spread in the midst of a collapsing health care system and a deep economic crisis exacerbated by US sanctions and low oil prices.

A way out, some say, while others are skeptical

Juan Cruz, former Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council, says the plan could be a “carrot” or a way out for Maduro government officials who are nervous about the current state of affairs.

“It brings the decision straight to the regime’s lap,” said Cruz, adding that it provides an opportunity to ease sanctions and provide help during the pandemic.

Despite being an ultimatum, Cruz says, “Either they take this deal – the best they can get – or they are in a corner and all they have is bad options.”

Cruz adds that although Arreaza rejected the deal, it may not officially speak for everyone in the government.

Others expressed skepticism about the proposal. Geoff Ramsey, director for Venezuela in the Washington Office for Latin America (WOLA), said the announcement was important, but it was six months late.

The opposition tried to negotiate a similar proposal last summer through a dialogue mediated by Norway. However, the talks ended after Maduro’s government suspended participation to protest the Trump administration’s tightening of sanctions.

Ramsey said the talks failed in part due to the lack of clear US support. The main difference between the current proposal and that of last summer is that the opposition was ready to talk about new elections with Maduro in power as long as there were guarantees of free and fair elections.

“This plan is an effective attempt to find out who can and cannot be part of a negotiated transition, which will make negotiations significantly more difficult,” said Ramsey.

“It’s more about politics than politics. Rhetoric plays a good role in certain elements of hardliners,” he added.

Florida has the largest concentration of Venezuelans in the United States and broadly welcomed Pompeo’s announcement on Tuesday.

The Venezuelans, who have strongly supported Trump’s efforts to oust Maduro, form a small but important group of voters in Florida – a major swinging state in the 2020 presidential election.

Edith Ruiz, 68, a Miami-based and former radio journalist with Globovisión in Venezuela, said the plan had political overtones and she doubted that Maduro would accept it. However, she believes Trump also has a strategic plan to end the Venezuela crisis, as it affects others in the region. She also believes his government is really concerned about the humanitarian conditions there.

“The Venezuelans certainly have a feel for Trump for what he did for Venezuela,” she said.

Venezuela is in a difficult situation

The International Monetary Fund recently rejected Maduro’s application for a $ 5 billion loan. They said there was a lack of clarity among 189 members as to who Venezuela’s legitimate leader is – Maduro or Guaidó.

In a video Guaidó released over the weekend, he said an emergency government would help raise $ 1.2 billion in international aid. He also urged Maduro’s opponents to be realistic and willing to share power.

Guaidó tweeted on Tuesday that he was Pompeo for the “United States supporting the formation of an emergency government and a State Council to solve the crisis. “

The United States strongly supports Guaidó, which has been recognized by almost 60 countries as Venezuela’s rightful leader after Maduro won a controversial reelection in 2018.

For over a year, the United States has been using economic and diplomatic pressure to force Maduro to resign or break military support for him. The Trump administration has denied Venezuela access to the U.S. financial markets and imposed oil sanctions, the country’s primary source of income.

Last week the Department of Justice indicted Maduro and some of his close allies for terrorism and announced a $ 15 million reward for information that could result in Maduro’s capture or conviction.

According to Pompeo’s proposal, those accused of serious human rights violations and drug trafficking are not entitled to sanction relief.

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