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Venezuela rejects dialogue with opposition under US pressure

A handout picture released by the Venezuelan presidency shows Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (L) speaking next to Parliament President Jorge Rodriguez during a meeting with deputies of the National Assembly, in Caracas, Venezuela, on January 4, 2022. (Via AFP)

Venezuela’s National Assembly President Jorge Rodriguez has rejected calls for dialog with the US-backed opposition as hypocritical as long as Washington maintains pressure on Caracas, including in the form of foreign asset freezes.

“Enough with the hypocrisy of dialog! If you want talks, show respect. If you want talks, free Alex Saab. If you want talks, return our gold, which you stole,” Rodriguez said on Wednesday, referring to Colombian businessman Alex Saab, an ally of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro who has been extradited to the US on money laundering charges.

Negotiations between the Venezuelan government and the Western-backed opposition came to a halt late last year after Saab was taken into custody and rendered to the US. The negotiations, mediated by Norway and hosted by Mexico, aimed to resolve the years-long crisis in the Latin American country. Rodriguez led the government delegation in Mexico.

Venezuela plunged into political turmoil after the US-sponsored opposition figure and former president of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, unilaterally declared himself “interim president” in January 2019. Later, he launched a botched coup to oust Maduro with Washington’s greenlight and help from a small number of rogue soldiers.

The administration of former US President Donald Trump recognized Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela and publicly pursued a “regime change” policy against Maduro, and a number of countries — mostly in Western Europe — followed suit, claiming that the 2018 re-election of Maduro had been “fraudulent,” an allegation Caracas rejected.

However, since 2021 legislative elections in Venezuela, a number of countries and the European Union (EU) have been supporting Guaidó only as a leading opposition figure.

Caracas aims to ease US-led sanctions on the Venezuelan nation while the opposition says it aims to use the talks to secure guarantees for voters ahead of the 2024 presidential elections.

The US has imposed several rounds of tough sanctions against Venezuela aimed at ousting Maduro and replacing him with Guaidó. The sanctions, which include the illegal confiscation of Venezuelan assets abroad and an economic blockade, have caused poverty, a lack of access to basic goods, gasoline shortages, and power cuts.

Some Venezuelans have even moved to other countries to avoid the dire economic situation, including some two million people who now reside in Colombia.

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