On Friday, former Venezuela president Nicolás Maduro revealed he has been having secret meetings with the Trump administration. The US is also currently in the process of delivering humanitarian aid to Venezuela on military aircraft.
In an interview with AP, Maduro said his foreign minister invited Elliott Abrams, special envoy for Venezuela, for meetings “privately, publicly, or secretly”.
Maduro claims the two meetings in New York lasted several hours. “If he wants to meet, just tell me when, where and how, and I’ll be there,” Maduro said in the interview.
Although the State Department and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not comment on Maduro’s revelation, a senior official said the US was willing to meet with him to outline his exit strategy.
According to CNN, Pompeo said, “The overture shows Maduro’s ‘increasing understanding’ that the Venezuelan people are rejecting him.”
Aid to Venezuela
On Friday, USAID Administrator Mark Green met with Colombian President Iván Duque to discuss the urgency of aid delivery to Venezuela that Maduro was stalling.
“At Interim President Guaidó’s request, the US government has worked with the Colombian government and the rest of the international community to pre-position humanitarian aid, so that it is available as soon as it can be safely and responsibly delivered to the Venezuelan people who are in dire need,” said a USAID press release.
USAID tweeted that high-energy biscuits were being airlifted to feed schoolchildren. Also included in the aid package are medical supplies, such as soaps, razors, and hygiene kits having toilet paper, sanitary pads, toothpaste and toothbrushes, combs, laundry detergent, and towels.
Pompeo said, “We congratulate Juan Guaidó’s government on its successful conference at the Organization of American States, where 30 countries, together with NGOs and the private sector, gathered to support the people of Venezuela in this humanitarian crisis. The time has come to let in aid.”
Background on the Venezuelan crisis
In 2014, hyperinflation, falling oil prices, mass migration, and a food shortage almost triggered the collapse of Venezuela. As a result, former President Maduro received backlash for his policies.
In 2015, Maduro’s party suffered a huge defeat in the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) elections; the opposition won enough seats to politically challenge Maduro at every turn. This opposition had also participated in a 2002 coup against the Chavez administration, where Maduro was vice-president.
In 2017, Maduro stripped the NCA of powers to convene a new one almost entirely made up of his supporters. The country’s electoral authorities also scheduled the 2018 presidential election half a year early. So, although Maduro became president in 2018, people questioned the legitimacy and fairness of the process.
Recent political developments
On Friday, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions on five officials aligned with Maduro who “continue to repress democracy and democratic actors in Venezuela and engage in significant corruption and fraud against the people of Venezuela”.
The targets of these sanctions are the head of Venezuelan National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) Manual Ricardo Cristopher Figuera, SEBIN’s First Commissioner Hildemaro Jose Rodriguez Mucura, Commander of Venezuela’s Directorate General of Military Counter-Intelligence Ivan Rafael Hernandez Dala, and the Director of the Venezuelan National Police’s Special Actions Force Rafael Enrique Bastardo Mendoza.
The OFAC also extended the sanctions to include state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. President Manuel Salvador Quevedo Fernandez. This will block close to $7 billion in assets and cost Venezuela $11 billion in oil revenue, reports ABC News.
The sanctions mean that all property of these individuals will be blocked and reported to the OFAC; it also means that no one in the US can deal with them. However, OFAC clarifies these sanctions need not be permanent and have been instituted to create a positive change in behaviour.
US Vice President Mike Pence said the new sanctions against Maduro were an American reaction to human rights violations in Venezuela. “We stand with the people of Venezuela, their constitution & President Juan Guaidó to support delivery of humanitarian aid & a democratic transition,” he said.
The US also imposed visa restrictions and revocations on members of Maduro’s Constituent Assembly and Supreme Court judges.
Although Maduro disagrees with Trump’s critique of his socialist regime, he hoped to meet him to resolve the power struggle in Venezuela.
India’s stance on Venezuela
India does not recognise Guaidó as Interim President and refused to intervene in the country’s domestic tension.
The Wire reported that India-Venezuela relations have deepened since Indian oil companies invested in Venezuela; also, Indian pharmaceutical companies operate there. Reliance Industries signed a 15-year contract with PDVSA, as well.
Indian Oil Corporation Ltd even tweeted images of Manuel Quevedo, who has been sanctioned by the US, interacting with Indian officials at Petrotech 2019.
The US warned that it will not forget India’s importing of oil from Venezuela during this tumultuous time. To this, Spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs Raveesh Kumar said, “We don’t have any barter system with Venezuela; commercial considerations and related factors will determine the value of trade.”
He also stressed that India and Venezuela enjoy close and cordial relations. “We are, of course, monitoring the evolving situation in the country. It is for the people of Venezuela to find a political solution to resolve the differences through constructive dialogue and discussion without resorting to violence,” he added.
Rhea Arora is a staff writer at Qrius.