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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Biden removes Venezuela’s opposition leader from the Summit

LOS ANGELES ( Associated Press) — A little over two years ago, Juan Guaidó received a barrage of applause from the US government and opposition when then-President Donald Trump praised the Venezuelan opposition leader during his government report, whom he described as a “very brave man” who carried on his shoulders the democratic hopes of an entire country.

However, in a sign of how his political future has fallen and how quickly the geopolitical calculations of the United States can change, the 38-year-old Venezuelan was not invited to the Summit of the Americas despite the fact that the current president’s government, Joe Biden has focused on the need to promote democracy and has insisted that he still recognizes Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela.

Although he was also not invited to the Summit, the man Guaidó has sought to remove from power, President Nicolás Maduro, is savoring something of a victory. In an unusual trip to Turkey, Maduro —who is the target of US sanctions and is accused in a drug trafficking court case— denounced the US government’s decision to exclude him and his allies—Cuba and Nicaragua—from the Summit, calling the decision a “stab” in the back to regional cooperation.

“This is a clear victory for Maduro,” said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas. “He has seen allies take up his cause at the summit while he prevents his main rival, whom Washington recognizes as president, from attending.”

In what can be interpreted as an attempt at damage control, Biden spoke with Guaidó on Wednesday. It was the first time that the two leaders spoke and during the call, which lasted around 17 minutes, Biden reiterated his support for the opposition leader, whose claim to the presidency in 2019 derived from the fact that he was then the head of the National Assembly of Venezuela.

“President Biden expressed his support for the Venezuela-led negotiations as the best path toward a peaceful restoration of democratic institutions, free and fair elections, and respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Venezuelans,” a statement said. White House “Both discussed the role that the United States and other international partners can play in supporting a negotiated solution to the crisis in Venezuela. President Biden reaffirmed that the United States is willing to calibrate the sanctions policy as informed by the results of the negotiations that empower the Venezuelan people to determine the future of their country.”

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However, after weeks of silence from the White House on whether or not Guaidó would be invited, the call offered little comfort to Venezuela’s pro-democracy movement. “We don’t want to go to a party where we weren’t invited,” said one of Guaidó’s envoys on condition that his name remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of diplomatic issues. National security adviser Jake Sullivan downplayed the idea that the United States was looking down on a staunch ally.

Speaking on the Air Force 1 plane en route to the hemispheric meeting in Los Angeles, Sullivan reiterated that the decision not to invite anyone from Guaidó’s team and instead involve civil society activists from Venezuela was a tactical one to encourage negotiations between Maduro and his opponents, which could lead, “ultimately, to a better future for the Venezuelan people.”

The possible presence of Guaidó at the Summit also seems to have irritated many allies of the leftist Venezuelan government, including the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who decided not to attend the meeting due to the exclusion of Maduro and the presidents of Cuba. and Nicaragua.

A Mexican official confirmed that his government asked the United States to exclude Guaidó from the guest list. The official, who requested anonymity because of diplomatic deals, said other countries had done the same.

Leftist leaders from Bolivia, Grenada, Honduras, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines joined Mexico’s decision. Also staying in their countries, though not in solidarity with Maduro, were the leaders of El Salvador and Guatemala, as well as the president of Uruguay, who was exposed to COVID-19.

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Beyond this, foreign pressure was not the only thing that caused Biden to decide not to invite Guaidó. Since the war between Russia and Ukraine caused a rise in gasoline prices, among other products, the United States has begun to reevaluate its policy regarding Venezuela, a country that sits atop the world’s largest oil reserves. in the world, but whose decline in its production for decades has been exacerbated by US sanctions.

In March, US officials led by Juan González, director for the Western Hemisphere of the National Security Council, traveled to Caracas to meet with Maduro. Then as now, Guaidó stood by and US officials did not meet with him during the multi-day trip. The objective of the talks was to offer Maduro the possibility of sanctions relief in exchange for resuming negotiations in Mexico with his opponents, something that has not happened so far.

Meanwhile, Guaidó continues to fight for change in his country. Although his appearances on the street are less frequent and the crowds have greatly diminished since he launched the challenge to Maduro in 2019, they still carry significant risks. On Saturday his supporters were greeted in the western city of Maracaibo, a short distance from Colombia, with a barrage of flying plastic chairs and fistfights from Maduro allies.

“The violent ones were left empty-handed,” Guaidó told a small group of supporters amid shouts of “Libertad, Libertad, Libertad!” after the raucous brawl. “Let’s be clear: we are not going to take a single step back.”

___

Goodman reported from Miami.

Associated Press journalists in New York and Caracas, Claudia Torrens and Jorge Rueda, contributed to this story.

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