US says Venezuela’s Maduro still illegitimate after opposition ‘government’ disbanded

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Washington (AFP) – The United States said on Tuesday it still does not consider Nicolas Maduro the rightful president of Venezuela and would maintain sanctions after the nascent opposition disbands his “interim government”.

President Joe Biden’s administration has said Venezuelan government assets in the United States, including the state oil company, will legally remain under the authority of the opposition-led National Assembly, which was elected in 2015 but was stripped of power by Maduro’s leftist government.

“Our approach to Nicolas Maduro does not change. He is not the legitimate leader of Venezuela,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

“We continue to recognize what is the only democratically elected institution remaining in Venezuela today, and that is the 2015 National Assembly,” Price said.

Price said existing sanctions “remain in place” and the United States is in contact with the National Assembly to see if a new individual, group or committee will oversee government assets.

The United States, under former President Donald Trump, set a goal of overthrowing Maduro in 2019 following an election widely seen as fraudulent and as an economic crisis wreaked havoc with shortages of food products. first necessity.

More than seven million Venezuelans have fled their country, most to neighboring countries, but a growing number are making the dangerous journey to the United States.

Joined by most Western and Latin American nations at the time, the United States recognized Juan Guaido of the National Assembly four years ago as interim president.

The Trump administration has put Guaido as the government in charge of Citgo, the US refiner that is part of state oil company PDVSA.

Maduro ‘totally ready’

Maduro remained in power with the support of certain segments of the population as well as the military, Russia, China and Cuba. The National Assembly – now largely a symbolic force in Caracas – on Friday voted to dissolve Guaido’s “interim government”.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido waves a national flag during a protest to demand a date for presidential elections in Caracas in October 2022
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido waves a national flag during a protest to demand a date for presidential elections in Caracas in October 2022 © Federico PARRA / AFP/Dossier

In an interview broadcast on state television on Sunday, Maduro offered top-level talks with the Biden administration.

“Venezuela is ready, fully ready, to take steps toward a process of normalizing diplomatic, consular, and political relations with the current administration of the United States and with future administrations,” Maduro said.

Despite not acknowledging his legitimacy, the Biden administration sent a delegation that met with Maduro in March and in November gave the green light to US oil giant Chevron to resume operations in Venezuela after a price spike. of crude due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Chevron’s move came after the Maduro government and the opposition reached an agreement in talks in Mexico to let the United Nations administer public funds for various social spending in the country.

In Caracas, National Assembly member Tomas Guanipa, whose opposition party Primero Justicia pushed to end the caretaker government, told reporters that last week’s decision was “an exercise in political realism”.

“Whether Maduro is illegitimate is not up for discussion; what cannot exist is an alternative government that does not exercise its functions and has been put in place to achieve change quickly,” said Guanipa, who served as the interim government’s ambassador to Colombia.

Political support for Guaido has eroded further outside the United States, where staunch anti-communists of Cuban and Venezuelan descent are a potent political force, though generally leaning towards Trump’s Republican Party.

The most dramatic change has come in Colombia, long a vocal opponent of Maduro, where President Gustavo Petro has pursued reconciliation since being elected last year as Colombia’s first leftist leader.

The European Union, while not abandoning its support for Guaido, has ceased since mid-2021 to appoint him as interim president after Maduro ousted the National Assembly.

A spokeswoman for the French foreign ministry, asked about the end of the interim government on Tuesday, said that France “supports the democratic forces of Venezuela who will organize themselves as they wish”.

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