July 3, 2022

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Biden ignores Venezuela's pro-democracy leader from summit

Biden ignores Venezuela’s pro-democracy leader from summit

Los Angeles (AFP) – A little more than two years ago, Juan Guaido engulfed bipartisan applause when President Donald Trump praised the Venezuelan opposition leader during his State of the Union address as a “very brave man” who carried on his shoulders the democratic hopes of an entire nation.

But in a sign of the extent to which his political destiny has fallen, and how quickly America’s geopolitical calculus can change, the 38-year-old was not invited to this week’s Summit of the Americas — despite the Biden administration’s continued promotion of democracy and insistence on recognizing Guaido. as interim president of Venezuela.

Meanwhile, the man Guaido was trying to unseat, Nicolas Maduro, took something from the victory lap. On a rare foreign trip to Turkey this week, Maduro, the target of US sanctions and a federal drug indictment, denounced the decision to exclude him and his leftist allies from Cuba and Nicaragua from the gathering as a “stab” in the back of regional cooperation.

“This is a clear win for Maduro,” said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas, from Los Angeles where he was attending the summit. He saw allies making his case at the top while preventing his primary rival, whom Washington recognizes as president, from attending.

In what may be an effort to control the damage, on Wednesday Biden spoke with Guaido. It was the first time the two leaders had spoken and during the roughly 17-minute call, Biden reiterated his support for Guaido, whose claim to the presidency stems from his role as president of the National Assembly elected in 2015.

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“President Biden expressed his support for the Venezuela-led negotiations as the best path toward the peaceful restoration of democratic institutions, free and fair elections, and respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Venezuelans,” according to a White House call. They discussed the role that the United States and other international partners can play in support of a negotiated solution to the Venezuela crisis. President Biden reiterated that the United States is ready to calibrate its sanctions policy as outlined in the results of negotiations that enable the Venezuelan people to determine the future of their country.

But following weeks of silence from the White House on whether or not Guaido will be invited, this call has provided little respite for Venezuela’s pro-democracy movement.

“We don’t want to be seen as party spoilers who go where we don’t,” said one of Guaido’s envoys, speaking on condition of anonymity, discussing sensitive diplomatic dealings.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan played down suggestions that the United States is ignoring a powerful ally.

Speaking aboard Air Force One en route to Los Angeles, Sullivan insisted that the decision not to invite anyone from Guaido’s camp, and instead to involve civil society activists from Venezuela, was a tactical one to encourage negotiations between Maduro and his opponents that lead to “a better future for the Venezuelan people.” “.

Guaido’s possible presence at the summit appears to have angered many of the Venezuelan government’s allies, including Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who decided to skip the summit due to the exclusion of Maduro and the leaders of Cuba and Nicaragua.

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A Mexican official confirmed that his government had asked the United States to remove Guaido from the list of invitees with the Biden administration, an effort that ultimately failed to persuade Lopez Obrador to participate in the summit. The official, who asked not to be named to discuss diplomatic transactions, said other countries have done the same.

The Mexican leader’s boycott was joined by fellow left-wing leaders in Bolivia, Grenada, Honduras, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. He also stayed at home in protest, despite his lack of solidarity with Maduro, were the leaders of El Salvador and Guatemala, as well as the President of Uruguay, who has been exposed to COVID.

But it is not only external pressure that made Biden fearful of inviting Guaido.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine sent energy prices soaring, the United States has begun to reassess its policy on Venezuela, the country that sits atop the world’s largest oil reserves, but whose decades-long decline in oil production has been made worse by the United States. Penalties.

In March, US officials led by Juan Gonzalez, the senior director of the National Security Council for the Western Hemisphere, traveled to Caracas to meet with Maduro. Then, as now, Guaido remained on the sidelines, as US officials did not meet with him during the multi-day trip. The aim of the talks was to comment before Maduro on the possibility of easing sanctions in exchange for a return to negotiations in Mexico with his opponents, something that has not happened so far.

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Meanwhile, Guaido continues to fight for change, although his appearances on the streets have been less frequent, and the crowds have dwindled dramatically since he launched his challenge to Maduro in 2019.

On Saturday, in the western city of Maracaibo, a short distance from Colombia and a flight to the United States, his supporters were met with a barrage of flying plastic chairs and hands from Maduro allies.

“The violent were left empty-handed,” Guaido told a small group of supporters. “Let’s be clear: We will not take a single step back.”

– Goodman reported from Miami. Authors Claudia Torrens in New York and Jorge Rueda in Caracas, Venezuela contributed to this report.